Fifteen female international cabin crew who are alleging age and race discrimination on the part of their former employer, British Airways, will have their case heard today before the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

The workers, all supported by Unite, claim that they were dismissed soon after their 45th birthdays, the age imposed by the airline as the retirement age at its Hong Kong base. Despite years of attempts by the union in Hong Kong, backed by Unite in the UK, to bring BA's Hong Kong retirement age into line with the standard retirement age for those working in other areas of the airline's Hong Kong operation, with UK law, and with Unite's collective agreements covering UK-based crew, BA has steadfastly refused to change its policy. Its forced retirement age of 45 for Hong Kong cabin crew is now further out of step with UK law as, in 2006, legislation was introduced to outlaw age discrimination on this basis.

In 2008, Unite won a pre-hearing to have the case heard in the UK on the basis that discrimination laws apply to BA's international cabin crew. BA appealed this decision in an attempt to maintain the discriminatory practice by arguing that the case is outside of the UK court's jurisdiction.

At today's tribunal, the EAT will be asked to decide to confirm that the case can indeed be heard in the UK courts. If the workers and Unite succeed, this will be a landmark case, which could have ramifications for international cabin crew throughout BA's worldwide operations and could bring them under UK legislation and the jurisdiction of the UK courts.

Carol Ng, chair of the BA Hong Kong International Cabin Crew Association and one of the 15 claimants, has made the trip to the UK to attend the tribunal in the hope that justice will now be done.

Ahead of the tribunal, Steve Turner, Unite national secretary for aviation, congratulated the workers on their fight for justice: "It is disgraceful that BA throws its Hong Kong cabin crew on the scrapheap at 45 years of age, and it is unacceptable that they continue to oppose all efforts by the workers and their union to end what is a clearly discriminatory practice. Instead of hanging its head in shame and looking for a way of ensuring all workers are treated equally wherever they may be based, BA continues its efforts to find legal loopholes to block efforts to end clear discrimination.

"It is very disappointing that we have had to go to court over this, but we are determined to win justice for these workers."

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