Cathay layoff fears hang heavy in air amid duty curbs

Top News | Michael Shum 5 Oct 2020

Cathay Pacific has suspended an arrangement allowing crew to swap flying duties, intensifying rumors that the airline will start sacking staff.

A union said it will meet management to discuss the issue this afternoon.

Rumors are rife that Cathay will terminate more than 1,500 flight attendants soon, alongside over 700 pilots and another 400 staff at the headquarters, with half of them from the crew resources department as well as training staff.

The airline has refused to comment.

As internal tensions ran high, a circular was sent to flight attendants stating that beginning this month, those with flying duties can swap their duties only with those who are assigned flying duties, and not those on leave.

"As our schedule continues to be fluid, it's crucial we ensure as many as possible of you remain proficient from a safety and service perspective," said the circular.

"From October 1 until further notice, swap requests between crew with flying duties and without flying duties assigned in the month will be temporarily suspended. Other swap guidelines will continue to apply," it said.

Pilots are said to have received a similar letter months ago. And an employee said this was a rare move.

"I have never seen this arrangement during the years I have worked for the company. It is a really rare move," he said.

"We were allowed to swap duties between ourselves, as some of us wanted to work more to earn more money while some wanted more holidays - but not any more."

Zuki Wong Sze-man, chairwoman of the Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union, played down the rumors.

"Cathay suspending the swap of flight duties is to ensure flight attendants can extend their licenses, as flight attendants might have to be trained again after a certain amount of time without flight duties," Wong said, adding that those assigned flight duties can still swap among themselves.

"Rumors about redundancies have been circulating from time to time, and we need not be too concerned. The union will be meeting management [this afternoon] to discuss the problem."

This came a day after layoff rumors started to circulate among flight attendants, with a screen capture on WhatsApp alleging Cathay will start laying off employees starting today.

The message also alleged that Cathay reserved all meeting rooms at its headquarters for flight attendants to return their uniforms.

The airline refused to comment.

Cathay did not apply for the second tranche of the Employment Support Scheme - after receiving HK$600 million in subsidies and guaranteeing to employ more than 25,000 staff in the first tranche.

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