Flight attendants in Hong Kong urged Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. to explain the reasons behind dozens of dismissals, accusing the airline of “political cleansing” amid the unrest that’s ensnared the city’s flagship carrier.
In a joint statement yesterday, flight-attendant unions from Cathay Pacific and its unit Cathay Dragon accused the airline of monitoring employees’ social-media accounts and obtaining “dubious” information from whistle-blowers as anti-China protests continue to convulse the city. The Hong Kong Cabin Crew Federation put the number of Cathay dismissals at 32, including pilots, since mid-August.
Cathay has been caught in the middle of the unrest that’s rocked Hong Kong for nearly four months. The Chinese government cracked down on the airline last month because some of its staff took part in protests, and disruptions to the airport and the city’s tourist trade have also spurred a slump in passengers. The airline ceded to some of Beijing’s demands and replaced its CEO, triggering criticism from demonstrators who have also raised concerns that the company is the suppressing free speech.
“While some of the crew were first shown posts or updates from their private social-media accounts and required to provide an explanation without evidence, others were just handed a termination letter without any accusations,” the unions said. “None of them were given valid grounds for dismissal.”
The unions said allegations leading to job terminations have sometimes been based on unverified material, such as alleged Facebook screenshots provided by anonymous third parties.
“A culture of fear has arisen,” the unions said, calling on Cathay to reveal the process of its investigations and explain the rationale for dismissals. The company should stop firing cabin crew based on activities on their private social media accounts, it said.
In a statement yesterday, Cathay reiterated that it must fully comply with regulations. “Quite simply, this is our license to operate; there is no ground for compromise,” it said.
Cathay Dragon said last week it fired two crew members during an investigation into why several depleted emergency oxygen bottles were found on flights in the past month. That followed the discovery of a bottle with low levels of oxygen on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong on Sept. 21. All cabin crew on that flight were suspended.
In the unions’ briefing in Hong Kong yesterday, one of the dismissed Cathay Dragon flight attendants, who refused to disclose her name due to the sensitivity of the issue, said she discovered an oxygen bottle suspected to be leaking on the Sept. 21 flight and reported the incident. She said she was fired a few days later without any explanation.
She said Cathay had asked her if she suspected anybody had tampered with the tank. The attendant said she thought that the company fired her for being unwilling to tell on others.
Two other former Cathay Pacific flight attendants who also insisted on anonymity said they were both fired without explanation after the company asked them if some social-media posts involving political comments were made by them. One said the posts were not made by her but by an account that used her profile photo without her knowing, but the company dismissed her despite her explanations.
Cathay said it can’t comment on individual cases of dismissals. Kyunghee Park & Shirley Zhao, Bloomberg