Airline Cathay Dragon has fired the chair of its flight attendant union Rebecca Sy after she allegedly posted messages of support for Hong Kong protesters on Facebook.

An online petition has been launched urging the airline to provide a reason for Sy’s dismissal and to reverse its decision. It also praised Sy for her contribution to the union, saying the airline should respect the right to freedom of speech.

Rebecca Sy
Rebecca Sy. Photo: Screenshot.

“Our president dedicated her life to our airline, and such effort should not be neglected. If our management is doing such action due to her shared post which [did not do] any harm to our airlines’s image on Facebook, we are urging our company to respect freedom of speech as one of our human rights,” it read.

Sy’s remarks online were screen captured by a former colleague and sent to groups supportive of the government, Apple Daily reported. The former colleague, a relative of a senior police officer, urged people to report Sy to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), the report said.

‘White terror’

At a Friday press conference, Sy said she had been able to fly to Beijing and back to Hong Kong on August 19 and 20. However, she was told not to work on a scheduled Hangzhou trip after the Beijing flight.

Rebecca Sy
Rebecca Sy speaks at a press conference on August 23. Photo: Screenshot.

She said she was told to go to Cathay Pacific’s headquarters on August 21 and was shown three Facebook screenshots which she confirmed were hers.

She was then immediately terminated. Sy said she was told by an officer that “I am sorry I can’t tell you the reason.”

“Our colleagues had tried to follow the rules given by the Civil Aviation Administration of China, I don’t know how much more we have to bend down so that we are safe,” she said. “I don’t want anyone else to receive such treatment like mine.”

“This is not just about me. This is about the whole industry. This is about Hong Kong. When will this white terror end?” she added.

Carol Ng, chair of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said the aviation industry was likely targeted because it had the highest participation rate in the August 5 strike.

Carol Ng
Carol Ng, chair of the Confederation of Trade Unions. Photo: Screenshot.

Ng said the group will file a lawsuit on behalf of Sy. She also said they will file complaints to the International Civil Aviation Organisation and other international unions.

“It is useless to be obedient. It is useless to compromise. We need to fight,” she said.

Cathay Pacific, the parent company of Cathay Dragon, declined to comment on internal employee matters.

In a new statement issued on Friday, Cathay Pacific Director Corporate Affairs James Tong said: “Cathay Pacific wishes to emphasise it fully supports the upholding of the Basic Law and all the rights and freedoms afforded by it.”

Cathay Dragon
A Cathay Dragon A320. Photo: Flickr/G B_NZ.

“We are a leading international airline with global operations and therefore we are required to comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the jurisdictions where we operate,” it added.

“Recent weeks have been most challenging for all of our people. We thank all our dedicated staff who are committed to serving our customers in a professional manner.”

Cathay Pacific has faced pressure from China as the CAAC imposed new safety rules on the airline on August 9, forcing the carrier to prevent employees supportive of the Hong Kong protests to board flights to, or passing over, China.

‘Exercise caution’

At around 5pm on Friday, Cathay Pacific released a statement saying Sy’s dismissal had nothing to do with her activities in the union but declined to elaborate further on the reason for her departure.

Cathay Pacific planes at the Hong Kong International Airport. Photo: GovHK.

“We would like to reiterate that we do not in any way discriminate against union members or their activities. Any actions taken by the Group with regards to our employees is always in strict accordance with the terms of their relevant employment contracts as well as applicable laws and regulations,” it read.

Last Friday, Cathay CEO Rupert Hogg and top deputy Paul Loo resigned — days after two pilots were fired over incidents connected to the city’s pro-democracy protests.

A new set of guidelines was issued by Cathay Pacific on Wednesday saying that employee’s use of social media inside and outside of work could breach rules imposed by CAAC.

“[E]mployees should always exercise caution about how their social media usage may be relevant to their own employment, the welfare of others and the business,” it said.

Paul Loo Rupert Hogg
Rupert Hogg and Paul Loo. Photo: Cathay Pacific.

Cathay Pacific confirmed on Wednesday that a pilot, who became an internet sensation after expressing support for the city’s protesters, was “no longer an employee” for the carrier.

Lawmaker Jeremy Tam from the pro-democracy Civic Party announced on Tuesday that he was leaving Cathay Pacific, where he had been employed as a pilot for nearly two decades, in order to protect the company from “unreasonable attacks.”

Meanwhile, two Airport Authority staff were fired earlier in the week. Local broadsheet Ming Pao cited sources as saying that the two former employees had worked at managerial levels for almost 20 years.

The revelation came after screenshots of employees discussing airport operations and security were leaked on August 13 while protesters were conducting a sit-in at the airport.

A Hong Kong court on Friday granted an extension to an injunction to clear protesters in the airport except for those in designated areas until further notice.

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Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.