Sound rationale for Cathay jab rule

Editorial | Mary Ma 14 Sep 2021

Cathay Pacific Airways is probably not the only company requiring employees to be vaccinated or face dismissal, but it is certainly the most eye-catching due to its high-profile brand and endless controversies in recent years.

It wasn't that long ago that the Hong Kong-based airline flew into a storm with its unpopular - but necessary - decision to permanently ground Cathay Dragon.

As a result, scores of staff were made redundant at a time the government was at pains to urge employers to do their best to retain staff during the pandemic.

Cathay's decision back then was arguably untimely. This time around, a fresh row is brewing and it's about Covid vaccinations.

What puzzles me is the attention Cathay is being given in the media. In contrast to other general economic activities, aviation clearly has the greatest urgency in having flight crews fully vaccinated since anyone flying - pilots, flight attendants and passengers - has to remain in a confined space for hours.

Although in-flight ventilation purifies the air, a crowded cabin provides a perfect environment to spread germs.

In light of this, it is really difficult to dispute Cathay's demand for its flight crew to be fully vaccinated.

This is not only for the safety of passengers or staff but also based on genuine operational needs because, if a crew member is infected with Covid, the entire crew would have to be stepped down temporarily until they are cleared as fit to fly again.

Cathay's practice is common in the aviation industry internationally.

How many employees have been sacked because they are not vaccinated? Cathay did not say and I understand there were less than 50. For the company that has already laid off hundreds and is yet to resume flying at full capacity, it's a very small number compared to the 10,000 Hong Kong-based air crew.

The company had previously said its Hong Kong-based pilots and flight attendants were 99 and 94 percent vaccinated.

From a management point of view, a high vaccination rate should offer a comfortable margin within which to operate. Equal Opportunities Commission chairman Ricky Chu Man-kin broke his silence yesterday, warning Cathay it might be guilty of discrimination by sacking unjabbed employees despite the company policy requiring them to get vaccinated.

Reports of the warning came after several cases were raised - including a new mother who is still breast-feeding her baby, another who is due to attend a medical appointment to review a heart condition and a third who is recovering from cancer treatment.

They were all sacked because they failed to comply with the vaccination policy.

Did Chu actually blame Cathay for the dismissals as he spoke to the media?

Apparently not. Rather, he seemed to be going around in circles, taking a noncommittal stance that is common to politicians and government officials.

Cathay has a sound rationale - but it is also important to keep the channel open for anyone feeling unfairly treated to seek redress.

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