The largest union of Hong Kong’s flag carrier Cathay Pacific has slammed the airline’s treatment of its air crew as the company recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a letter addressed to Cathay Pacific CEO Augustus Tang on Thursday, the Flight Attendants Union said that cabin crew members were “at the end of their rope” while “assisting the company to move from ‘survival’ to ‘recovery’.”

Photo: GovHK.

Hong Kong’s aviation industry took a hard hit during the Covid-19 pandemic. The city maintained one of the world’s strictest quarantine rules, at its peak requiring all incoming travellers to undergo 21 days of isolation at designated quarantine hotel.

Cabin crew members were also subject to stringent social-distancing measures on top of those imposed on the general public, including having to quarantine in hotels while overseas, a rule which was only lifted in October.

Cathay Pacific, which was already experiencing financial troubles prior to the pandemic, first required staff members to take unpaid leave, before slashing its workforce by close to a quarter and shutting down its subsidiary Cathay Dragon, which mainly flew short-haul flights within Asia, in October 2020.

In the letter addressed to Tang, the union’s Chairperson Ken Chang slammed Cathay Pacific for introducing “inhumane flight patterns, perpetual manpower cut, additional workload and allowance cut” in return for “solidarity” with the company.

“Ever since the pandemic, Cabin Crew have gone through tremendous redundancy, permanent pay cut along with endless COVID testing and prolonged isolation and quarantine, just to ride out the storm with the company together,” the letter read.

Cathay Pacific planes. File Photo: GovHK.

“We have been working hard unhesitatingly to save the company, while struggling for survival for our own lives with the uncompetitive salaries. This wave of solidarity and hard work by Cabin Crew Members were, however, annihilated and trampled down in blind stubbornness.”

In May, the airline sought to rehire sacked staff members, although anyone wishing to return would have to start from the bottom regardless of their previous position with the company.

In October, Cathay Pacific launched a hiring drive with the aim of employing over 4,000 frontline staff members. However, the Flight Attendants Union said frontline employees occupied a “passive” position with little opportunity to raise monthly earnings on top of their base salary, which could be as low as HK$9,100.

Last month, the airline announced a 3.3 per cent pay increase for eligible Hong Kong-based employees.

Chang said it was not the staff members’ intention to “ask for more” while the company was in recovery, and said that they only wanted “reasonable” patterns, manpower and pay.

Cathay Pacific told HKFP on Friday that there was “no safety issue” with their rostering practices, and that they were “sincerely thankful for the extraordinary efforts” of their staff members over the past two and a half years.

“We acknowledge that there are issues with our rosters as we rebuild our network and resume more flights. We understand that there are some abnormalities with crew layover patterns due to infrequent flight schedules. We are applying short-term fixes to adjust the rosters manually,” the airline said.

Cathay Pacific also said that there would be “better rosters with more choices” in the longer run, and that the crew could “earn more productivity pay and other allowances” with more flying hours.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.