Cathay Pacific cabin crew members could be forced to strike against their employer if the Hong Kong airline continues to ignore concerns over long working hours and a lack of rest time, an employee union has said.

Cathay Pacific’s cabin crew explain how inflight meals are placed during a recruitment event. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Grace Siu, vice-chairperson of the Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union, said on an RTHK radio show on Wednesday that the union had received unanimous backing from its members to take action in protest of what she said was the company’s disregard of employees’ wellbeing.

“We haven’t decided [what we will do] but we have not ruled anything out,” she said.

“[Staging a] strike is a last resort when it comes to any industrial action,” Siu added. “We hope we do not have to do that. We will [first] see what we can do to make the company willing to communicate with us and improve.”

Last week, the 3,000-strong union sent a letter to Cathay Pacific CEO Augustus Tang describing cabin members as “at the end of their rope” while “assisting the company to move from ‘survival’ to ‘recovery.'”

Cathay Pacific planes. File Photo: GovHK.

The letter also highlighted “inhumane flight patterns, perpetual manpower cut, additional workload and allowance cut.”

A Cathay Pacific spokesperson told HKFP on Wednesday that the airline had communicated with the union over “temporary rostering issues which have arisen as the airline rebuilds its network. It also said the company has announced a “3.3% salary increment for 2023 and an ex-gratia payment equivalent to one-month’s salary for all eligible employees.”

The spokesperson called for patience in the meantime, adding that flight services will continue as scheduled.

Industry woes

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.

The departure hall of Hong Kong International Airport. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

With the dropping of the Covid-19 hotel quarantine rule for arrivals, air traffic to and from Hong Kong has increased. Yet, the airline has cut around one person from each flight’s roster, Siu said on Wednesday.

“Many flights now are full. With less rest time… our work has become more and more difficult,” she added.

Some workers were also making less compared to pre-pandemic times, according to Siu. Under the company’s new rostering system, some cabin crew members were not assigned shifts on long-haul flights. Flight attendants rely on the additional allowance given to those flying long-haul flights to boost their income, as their base salary is as low as HK$9,100.

Hong Kong International Airport. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Siu criticised the airline for not making preparations amid the gradual restarting of travel to resolve rostering issues, with flights increasing since September this year.

“[The company] said it hopes we understand the chaos,” she said, adding that the new system had been in place since last July. “But what we don’t understand is… didn’t the airline foresee that flights would resume? There’s been a whole year… to think about how to arrange this.”

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.