Cathay staff come out fighting

Top News | Sophie Hui and Jane Cheung 27 Oct 2020

Disgruntled Cathay crew members demanded the deadline for signing a new "harsh, unfair and unreasonable" employment contract be postponed as they threatened an injunction to stop it.

This came after the Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Union held an extraordinary general meeting yesterday at the Novotel Citygate Hong Kong Hotel attended by 360 members who pledged to support their union's action.

Around 140 white-garbed staffers who had signed up for the meeting but did not get a seat gathered outside Citygate shopping mall in Tung Chung, where the hotel is located, to show their support.

The first deadline of the new contract is tomorrow, with a one-off transitional subsidy for those who signed but not for those signing before the final deadline next Wednesday. Those who do not accept the new contract will see their employment terminated and a loss of all benefits.

The union said it will have a meeting with Cathay management today to demand the deadline for signing the new contract be extended.

"Members said the new contract has changed a lot and they need more time to read the clauses thoroughly," said union chairwoman Zuki Wong Sze-man.

She said some members are already regretting signing the new contract.

Wong said the basic salaries of some flight attendants have been cut by 30 to 40 percent under the new terms, and there are clauses that would affect the union's bargaining power. The new contract also states that the airline can offset an employee's mandatory provident fund.

Many employees worry that when there are layoffs in the next two to three years they could lose MPF money.

The new contract also states that the company has the right to alter the terms in future. "This means that basic salaries can be further reduced," Wong said.

"You [Cathay] have a consultant team to help you form a restructuring plan in four months.

"Why do [I] only have a few days to consider a contract that can affect my whole life?" She also criticized the company for releasing a jumble of details when workers asked about the new terms.

"They couldn't provide clear answers to employees before making us sign the new contract," Wong said.

She said the contract is a "permanent exploitation" of employees because the economy and the aviation industry will recover in a few years.

Having sacked 5,300 local staff last Wednesday, Cathay also sent an internal e-mail saying it would not discuss with the union the new contracts for remaining staff.

Amber Suen Tak-yin, the union vice-chairwoman, said the e-mail showed the company is insincere and unreasonable.

"This move has enraged many colleagues," she said.

Asked if the union will apply for an injunction to stop the company from firing crew who do not sign the new contract before the deadline, Suen said it is taking legal advice and would not rule out any possible actions.

Chris Beebe, general secretary of Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association, told The Standard it will continue to explore all legal options including "the potential for an injunction."

Association chairman Tad Hazelton also wrote a letter to Commissioner for Labour Carlson Chan Ka-shun seeking a meeting with the Labour Department today.

He said it is "unrealistic" and "grossly unfair" for Cathay to require employees to sign the new contract within one or two weeks with automatic termination if they do not

Hazelton quoted the department as saying an employer should consult and secure consent from its employees prior to varying the terms of employment contracts.

"No such consultation has occurred between the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association and the management of Cathay Pacific," he said.

"This lack of consultation, an unfair draconian decision period and a question as to whether consent can legitimately be given under these circumstances are of great concern. "We wish to discuss the actions to be taken in order to preserve the statutory rights and uphold the moral obligations of Cathay Pacific to its pilots."

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