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Cathay Faces Cabin Crew Rebellion Over Unpaid Leave

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Hong Kong’s flagship airline Cathay Pacific was Wednesday facing a rebellion from its 7,000-strong cabin crew over an offer of unpaid leave to offset the effects of the economic slump. The airline last week offered all cabin crew unpaid leave of between two weeks and 12 months because of a downturn in business brought about by the global financial crisis.
Pilots on the airline, which earlier this year recorded its first operating loss since 2003, are also being offered unpaid leave with immediate effect as routes are trimmed.
However, the powerful Flight Attendants Union, which represents the majority of the airline’s cabin crew, Wednesday warned its members not to accept any unpaid leave.
In a circular to its members, the union warned that flight attendants’ bonuses, retirement funds and other entitlements would be adversely affected if they took unpaid leave.
“Unlike during (the 2003) SARS (crisis), the company has not negotiated with the union reasonable terms when offering unpaid leave this time,” the circular said.
“The terms are so harsh that it is as if you are begging to let them help you help them, or you are allowing yourself to be double punished for helping them out.”
Titled “10 reasons why you should not take unpaid leave,” the circular concluded: “If there really is a surplus of crew or the company is going to reduce flight frequencies, we will all get more time off on full pay if we don’t take unpaid leave.”
In a memo to staff last week, Cathay Pacific said unpaid leave was being offered “as a result of the reduction in planned passenger capacity growth”.
The memo said leave was being offered on a voluntary basis only and stressed: “The airline will ensure it has sufficient crew for operational needs at all times.”
Cathay Pacific has thousands of employees worldwide and last year carried 23.5 million passengers and 1.6 million tons of cargo.

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