Pilot to pay US$1 million compensation for quitting
China – Chinese carriers are enforcing lifetime contracts to retain their crew at a time when increasing demand for air travel is creating opportunities abroad.
After being made to work 90 days straight, Chen Jianguo decided to quit his job as a pilot for Xiamen Airlines. According to a report by Bloomberg, his employer demanded the equivalent of more than US$1 million (S$1.35 million) in compensation and has banned him from the cockpit. “The company has adopted all kinds of unfair methods to punish me,” Chen said. “It's to give notice to their other pilots that the same thing could happen to them.”
Currently the world's second-largest market for air travel, China is expected to expand its fleet by about 30% to 1,550 aircrafts by 2010, according to the nation's aviation regulator. Bottlenecks at flight schools may leave a shortage of 2,000 pilots by that time, said Gao Hongfeng, vice director of the General Administration of Civil Aviation.
To prevent a bidding war for talent, the government issued a regulation in May 2006 which allowed airlines to demand compensation for losing staff. Pilots are required to pay their employers 700,000 yuan (S$138,000) to 2.1 million yuan (S$415,437) if they quit.
In April, Shanghai Airlines sued nine pilots for a total of 35 million (S$6.92 million) upon their resignation, according to the city's Jingan district court.
Zheng Zhihong, a former captain at China Eastern, was initially ordered to pay as much as 12.6 million yuan (S$2.49 million) when he resigned last year. Zheng agreed to pay 1.4 million yuan (S$276,800) in April after arbitration and hearings that lasted almost a year.
“It's unrelated to reality, somewhat like slavery,” Gideon Ewers, a London-based spokesman for the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations, said.
To protest their treatment, pilots have staged hunger strikes and turned flights around in mid-course.
On two occasions, pilots of 21 China Eastern flights turned their planes around and returned to their departure points in southeastern Yunnan province. The airline punished 13 of the pilots. And earlier in 2006, six pilots went on a five-day hunger strike outside the carrier's headquarters in Shanghai. The strike was later called off for health reasons.
Chen continues to fight his case through the courts. “No matter how much I earn, I should have the basic right to quit or give up the earnings,” he said.
- China Eastern Airlines
- Xiamen Airlines
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