Cathay Pacific flight attendants resent deep pay cuts, ‘slave-like’ terms of new contracts

Published (HKT): 2020.10.26 21:30

Cathay Pacific flight attendants who have kept their jobs amid the airline’s massive redundancies are deeply unhappy about their new contracts, which some compared to slavery at an emergency general meeting on Monday.

The Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union held the emergency meeting at a Hong Kong hotel on Monday, where a crowd of hundreds of members and their families stood outside. They were prevented from attending by social distancing requirements.

They wore white clothing to express their solidarity with the labor union and their dissatisfaction with the new contract terms given to them last week. The union members are facing the dilemma of whether to resign or to accept deep pay cuts of up to half of their base salaries.

The airline recently fired thousands and shut down its regional carrier, Cathay Dragon, in reaction to its almost 99 percent drop in business caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Employees who fail to sign the new contract before Nov. 4 will be considered to have resigned voluntarily. It remains unclear whether the wage cuts will be permanent or temporary.

Among the hundreds who stood outside the hotel was a flight attendant surnamed Law, who has worked at Cathay for six and a half years. She said “[The new terms] are insulting, as though we were enslaved. I won’t be here for long even though I will sign the new contract.” There is no guarantee, she said, that those who sign will not be laid off in future.

Another flight attendant gave her name as Bonnie, and said she has been an aircrew member for nine and a half years. “Many articles [in the new contract] are not written clearly,” she said. “The company is being very cautious, and later we may be forced to accept any changes they make to our benefits.”

Bonnie criticized Cathay management’s undercutting of the labor union by barring it from the pay-cut discussions.

The airline’s management said in an internal memo earlier that it would not negotiate with the union on the new contract and was unable to change the terms of the contract.

The management also offered signing bonuses to encourage employees to accept the new contracts as soon as possible. Those who sign by Wednesday will receive a bonus, ranging from HK$3,000 (US$387) to HK$7,000 depending on their rank.

The Hong Kong flagship airline announced its severe restructuring plan last week, in which it dismissed 8,500 employees globally and immediately ceased operations of Cathay Dragon. Passenger numbers had dropped 98.1% since September of last year.

Apart from the covid pandemic, Cathay Pacific was singled out and scrutinized in the past year by mainland aviation authorities, after anti-government protests flared out to Hong Kong International Airport. The airline’s then chief executive, Rupert Hogg, resigned abruptly in mid-August.

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