Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific has asked employees sacked during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic to re-join the airline, saying it was the “right time to begin rebuilding” the team as flights resume gradually after the fifth wave of infections ebbed. 

A Cathay Pacific aircraft. File photo: GovHK.

In an internal email sent on Tuesday, acquired by HKFP, Cathay invited its ex-employees to submit a “priority application” to fly with the airline again. Many were dismissed in a large-scale redundancy exercise in October 2020 owing to the “devastating impact” of the Covid-19 outbreak on international travel. 

The email from Cathay Pacific obtained by HKFP.

The company slashed its workforce by close to a quarter at the time and shut down its subsidiary Cathay Dragon, which mainly flew short-haul flights within Asia. The restructuring plan led to a total of 8,500 job losses, with 5,300 of them among Hong Kong-based staff. 

Cathay told its former workers on Tuesday the past two years had been a “challenging time,” after it “parted company with so many talented colleagues” in 2020. The redundancies were not a decision that Cathay “took lightly,” the airline said, adding it was also “not a reflection on the capability of the people who left us.” 

A flight attendant. File photo: GovHK.

Citing the relaxation of travel restrictions and eased quarantine requirements by the Hong Kong government, the airline said it anticipated carrying more passengers in the coming months. 

“[A]s we look to resume our flight operations, it is the right time for us to begin rebuilding out team,” the email seen by HKFP read. 

The cabin crew was always “at the very heart” of its business, Cathay wrote, adding the crew members were brand ambassadors who embodied the “thoughtful, progressive and can-do” company values. 

“If you are still passionate about delivering the world’s best inflight service we would be delighted to welcome you back,” Cathay said.

Hong Kong International Airport. File Photo: GovHK.

The offer by the flag carrier was “totally meaningless,” said former flight purser Miss Shum, who only agreed to be identified by her last name. 

According to the former employee who worked at the airline for 13 years, those who wished to return would have to start at the bottom. She said flight pursers like herself could only take up a role as a cabin crew member, a lower rank with a reduced salary compared to the position she held before her dismissal nearly two years ago. Such a condition was “very unfair,” she said. 

“It is impossible [for me] to start at the lowest rank. We would only get promoted after working there for 10 years, that means you are asking me to return to a post I worked in 10 years ago. That’s impossible. Not to mention the salary would be lower,” Shum told HKFP on Thursday, adding she definitely would not consider returning to the company.

Photo: GovHK.

In response to HKFP’s enquiries, Cathay confirmed it reached out to employees they had let go in 2020, who expressed interests in being notified when there were opportunities to rejoin airline. The company said it was actively resuming flights and it would review its manpower regularly, taking into account the time needed for recruitment and training.

“‘[W]e are continually reviewing our people resource requirements for the 18-24 month period ahead and planning for the anticipated recovery in Hong Kong and global aviation in this period,” the flag carrier said in an email reply.

The airline did not respond as to whether former employees would need to work from lower ranks than before if they decided to rejoin the company.

The airline carried a total of 40,823 passengers in April, a 82.2 per cent increase compared to April 2021 but a 98.7 per cent dip compared to the pre-pandemic traffic in April 2019. 

Cathay’s Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Ronald Lam said in early May that the government’s lifting of the flight ban on nine countries on April 1 led to increased demand from Hong Kong residents who wanted to return to the city, especially from the UK.

The airline pledged to “actively resume” flights to more destinations in the coming months, with daily flights to and from Heathrow Airport starting from early June. 

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.