Flight attendants in Hong Kong urged Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. to explain the reasons behind dozens of lay-offs, saying they feel “betrayed and deeply saddened” by an increasing number of cases for “unreasonable dismissal.”
In a joint statement released at a briefing Monday, 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. The Hong Kong Cabin Crew Federation put the number of Cathay lay-offs at 32, including pilots, though it didn’t provide a timeframe.
“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.”
Cathay has been caught in the middle of unrest that’s disrupted Hong Kong for nearly four months. Beijing cracked down on the airline because some of its staff took part in protests, and it’s also been hit by a slump in passengers. Demonstrators have criticized the company for ceding to demands of the Chinese government, which have raised concern over the suppression of free speech.
In a statement Monday, Cathay reiterated that it must fully comply with regulations. “Quite simply, this is our licence to operate; there is no ground for compromise,” it said, adding that it can’t comment on individual cases.
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.
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.
(Adds more details and comments from unions. An earlier version of this story corrected the number of lay-offs in the second paragraph.)
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