Cathay Pacific cabin crews are set to launch industrial action over Christmas and New Year, in a blow to the Hong Kong carrier’s recovery from a pandemic that crippled flights and slashed passenger levels.
The airline’s flight attendants union said it was urging members to “work to rule” — keeping strictly to contract terms — because of “inhumane” flight patterns and excessive workloads.
The action comes during the peak holiday season, but Cathay said flight services would continue as scheduled, adding “there is no need for concern . . . we will continue to listen to and act upon feedback from our crew”.
Hong Kong has been encouraging visitors and travel with the gradual relaxation of Covid measures. It scrapped hotel quarantine in September and last week began to allow inbound travellers to visit bars and restaurants in their first three days after arrival.
The Asian financial hub’s economy has taken a hit from the continuing pandemic, with officials expecting a 3.2 per cent contraction in annual gross domestic product after GDP shrank 4.5 per cent in the third quarter.
Although flying levels are picking up, Cathay only operated at 20 per cent of its pre-pandemic passenger capacity levels last month. The carrier is targeting 70 per cent of pre-pandemic passenger levels by the end of next year and full capacity by 2024.
However, pilots and cabin crew complained about “stressful” working conditions after the airline laid off thousands of staff in 2020 due to the pandemic, while many more left after pay cuts and because of tough quarantine rules.
“We hereby urge you to take real actions to support the flight attendants’ union in fighting for what you deserve,” the cabin crew union of the Chinese territory’s de facto flagship carrier said in a statement.
It said it had received 100 per cent support for industrial action from members at an emergency meeting in early December. A strike would be “the last resort”, it added.
In a letter to chief executive Augustus Tang this month, the union pointed to “perpetual manpower cuts, additional workload and allowance cuts” for cabin crew. It said it had received “numerous” fatigue reports and feedback from members on the roster who were suffering “inhumane [flight] patterns with minimal rest time”.
Before the lay-offs in 2020, Cathay had about 10,000 cabin crew members, according to the union. There were about 5,600 as of September this year after thousands were sacked and hundreds of others left the company, they said.
Cathay also lost more than a quarter of its pilots between December 2019 and the third quarter of this year, the total slipping to around 2,400. Pilots complained about “perpetual quarantine” rules and deep pay cuts of up to 60 per cent that had affected their morale.
Ronald Lam, Cathay’s chief customer and commercial officer, who will take over from Tang next month as chief executive, said last month that the airline would act as a “positive driving force behind the revival of Hong Kong’s international aviation hub status”.