Hong Kong: Concerns raised over Cathay Pacific’s responsibility to respect employees’ rights amidst ongoing protests

In August, "Cathay Pacific Airways…said it had sacked a pilot who was arrested and charged over clashes between police and anti-government protesters in Sheung Wan on July 28. Another cockpit crew member…who was revealed…to have been suspended for misusing company information related to the protests, also had his employment terminated.". It was reported that at least 20 aviation professionals had been fired or had resigned amidst the ongoing anti-government protests.

According to reports, Rupert Hogg, former CEO of Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, was ordered to provide a list of names of Cathay Pacific employees who took part in the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. It was reported that Hogg submitted only his name and resigned.

In late August, Cathay Pacific also urged staff members to "speak up" under its whistle-blowing policy in an internal memo, raising concern over Cathay’s responsibility to respect the human rights of its employees.

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4 October 2019

Hong Kong: Cathay Pacific employees say they are afraid to speak about ongoing protests amidst tightening regulations

Author: Reuters (UK)

“As protests rack Hong Kong, China watchdog has Cathay staff 'walking on eggshells'”, 3 Oct 2019

Since an Aug.9 directive by the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) that called for the suspension of staff who supported or participated in the demonstrations, the regulator has rejected some entire crew lists without explanation, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The rejections have forced Cathay to scramble, pulling pilots and flight attendants off standby while it investigates social media accounts in an effort to determine which crew member has been deemed a security threat, one of the sources said.

Other disruptions have come in the form of a huge jump in the number of plane inspections upon landing, four pilots said.

The flexing of regulatory muscle has contributed to a climate of fear within the airline…

The CAAC’s labeling of employees who support the protest as a security risk and its demand that they be suspended from flying over mainland airspace has been a de facto career killer.

… due to the directive, 30 rank-and-file staff, including eight pilots and 18 flight attendants, have been fired or resigned under pressure, according to the Hong Kong Cabin Crew Federation…

The CAAC did not respond Reuters requests for comment on the rejections of crew lists or the increase in plane checks. Cathay said in a statement it must comply with all regulatory requirements. “Quite simply, this is our license to operate; there is no ground for compromise,” it said.

The airline declined to comment on the number of employee departures, but said any terminations took into account factors such as a person’s ability to perform their role.

… after the CAAC’s Aug. 9 directive, the once-infrequent inspections occurred almost daily and included the new and unusual step of checking phones owned by crew for anti-China photos and messages, the pilots said, adding that this had led to flight delays…

Management has urged staff to do their utmost to avoid infractions…

The pilots said the high frequency of airplane checks, which one described as “very intimidatory”, was starting to recede.

… ahead of China’s National Day on Oct.1, immigration officers at some mainland airports requested photos of crew with the Chinese flag, said a pilot at regional arm Cathay Dragon who flies to the mainland regularly…

Cathay did not respond to a request for comment, while China’s Ministry of Public Security, which oversees immigration, did not respond to a request for comment during a week of public holidays…

… they lamented the loss of freedom of speech and sense of job security, saying employees are afraid to speak about anything even vaguely political or voice support for protests on social media for fear of being reported by colleagues under a whistleblower policy.

 [Also referred to Emirates, Air China, China CITIC Bank International and Huarong International]

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1 October 2019

Hong Kong: Unions say at least 26 Cathay staff were fired in protest-linked terminations

Author: Hong Kong Free Press

"Sacked Hong Kong Cathay staff decry ‘Cultural Revolution’ purge", 1 Oct 2019

Former Cathay Pacific staff who say they were fired for supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters accused bosses… of carrying out a “Cultural revolution” style political purge.

The Hong Kong-based airline has had a torrid few weeks after Chinese state media and authorities blasted the company because some of its 27,000 employees had taken part in — or were sympathetic to — anti-government protesters.

China’s aviation regulator barred staff supporting protests from working on flights to the mainland or traveling through its airspace, setting off chaos inside the company…

In recent weeks staff have described deleting their social media accounts, fearful that colleagues might inform on them while Cathay announced it had sacked multiple staff linked to the protests.

… a group of former employees held a press conference alongside officials from the Hong Kong Cabin Crew Confederation and flight attendant unions. They said at least 26 people had been fired from Cathay in protest-linked terminations.

Hiding their identities behind sunglasses and face masks they described summary firings, often after being shown screengrabs of their Facebook and other social media posts.

“It’s regrettable to see Cathay Pacific encouraging staff to report and criticise (others) internally,” one woman, who gave her first name as Jackie, told reporters. “The situation is just like in the Cultural Revolution.” “Some crew were shown posts and updates on their private social media accounts and required to provide an explanation with evidence. Others were handed termination letters without any accusations,” she added…

In a statement, Cathay said it had to abide by all regulations placed on it in any jurisdictions where it operates, “including those prescribed by the authorities in mainland China”... 

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29 August 2019

Cathay Pacific whistle-blowing policy urging staff to ‘speak up’ under spotlight as Hong Kong employees fear possible reprisals for support of anti-government protests

Author: Danny Lee & Sum Lok-kei, South China Morning Post

In an internal memo… Cathay Pacific Airways has reminded its staff about its policy to speak up and act as “whistle-blowers” as a climate of fear grows among the airline’s employees about possible reprisals for their activities on social media…

… It was feared the policy could encourage staff to report on colleagues, rather than protecting employees who feel they are being unfairly targeted from repercussions.

…The revised code of conduct added a new section on political activities, which barred staff from using company resources to express political opinions, and which stipulated that should staff seek permission to take part in protests, and should not wear uniform while doing so and should not give the impression the company has endorsed the protest.

It also outlined – as staff were previously warned last week – that taking part in illegal political activities was unacceptable, and could ultimately result in an investigation and dismissal from the firm.

Tom Owen, the airline’s human resources chief, told staff in a memo… “We do not take any of these decisions lightly and for every decision we make, we believe it is in the best interest of the Cathay Pacific Group, taking into account all the relevant factors,”…

The point was a reference in particular to the company submitting names of staff to Chinese authorities for pre-approval before flights entering or overflying China…

… at least 20 aviation professionals, including one engineer, had been sacked or had resigned after Beijing exerted pressure on companies to crack down on the anti-government movement sweeping the city…

A Cathay Pacific spokeswoman said the whistle-blowing policy was not a newly added item to its code of conduct… “We are committed to creating an environment in which our colleagues are encouraged and protected to share any potential risk about safety and security”… the company also warned that staff’s social media postings would be heavily scrutinised, adding that those expressing support for illegal anti-government protests in Hong Kong could fall foul of a strict new policy being forced on the airline by mainland China’s aviation authority…

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29 August 2019

Hong Kong airline Cathay Dragon fires flight attendant union chief amid pressure from China

Author: Kris Cheng, Hong Kong Free Press

Airline Cathay Dragon has fired the chair of its flight attendant union Rebecca Sy after she allegedly posted messages of support for Hong Kong protesters on Facebook...

At a… press conference, Sy said she had been able to fly to Beijing and back to Hong Kong… However, she was told not to work on a scheduled Hangzhou trip after the Beijing flight. She said she was told to go to Cathay Pacific’s headquarters… and was shown three Facebook screenshots which she confirmed were hers. She was then immediately terminated…

Carol Ng, chair of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said the aviation industry was likely targeted because it had the highest participation rate in the August 5 strike…

Cathay Pacific, the parent company of Cathay Dragon, declined to comment on internal employee matters.

In a new statement issued… Cathay Pacific Director Corporate Affairs James Tong said: “Cathay Pacific wishes to emphasise it fully supports the upholding of the Basic Law and all the rights and freedoms afforded by it.” “We are a leading international airline with global operations and therefore we are required to comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the jurisdictions where we operate,” it added…

Cathay Pacific has faced pressure from China as the CAAC imposed new safety rules on the airline… forcing the carrier to prevent employees supportive of the Hong Kong protests to board flights to, or passing over, China.

… Cathay Pacific released a statement saying Sy’s dismissal had nothing to do with her activities in the union but declined to elaborate further on the reason for her departure. “We would like to reiterate that we do not in any way discriminate against union members or their activities…” it read…


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29 August 2019

‘Zero tolerance’: Cathay Pacific warns staff face sack if they join Hong Kong strike

Author: AFP, Hong Kong Free Press

Cathay Pacific has warned staff they risk being sacked if they join a planned Hong Kongstrike, as the airline intensifies its crackdown on employee support for the rolling pro-democracy protests.

Hong Kong’s flagship carrier… has been accused of bowing to political pressure from China, whose aviation regulator has banned airline staff who have supported the demonstrations from working on flights through its airspace.

In an internal memo to staff, a Cathay director, Tom Owen, said participating in a strike planned for Monday and Tuesday could constitute a breach of contract. “We expect all of our employees to report for work as normal and over this period and will be monitoring attendance levels closely,” he said in the memo… “Any breach of policy or regulatory requirements will be investigated and may lead to termination of contract.”

The memo caps a sharp U-turn by the airline which publicly supported the right to free expression of its workforce earlier this month, only to crumble in the face of pressure from Beijing…

Several staff have told AFP they believe a witchhunt is underway, with employees frantically deleting social media posts and gutting their friends lists fearing disciplinary action if they are found to have any links with the protests.

The company has also issued a revised code of conduct to employees including reiterating its “zero tolerance” approach to staff participating in “illegal protests”.

Protest groups are calling for a general strike on Monday and Tuesday, three months into escalating pro-democracy protests that have rocked the city and damaged Hong Kong’s reputation as a stable business hub…

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18 August 2019

Cathay Pacific CEO praised for not giving names of staff joining Hong Kong protest

Author: Arthur Villasanta, International Business Times

Rupert Hogg, former CEO of Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, is being widely hailed as a hero for refusing China’s request he provide them with the names of all Cathay Pacific employees that took part in the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. China, which is the second largest shareholder of Cathay through state-owned Air China Ltd, also ordered Hogg to suspend these employees from work. Hogg responded. He provided Beijing with a list that only had one name on it -- his own. Hogg then resigned on Aug. 16 rather than betray his employees and endanger their safety, according to reports. Oddly, news of Hogg’s resignation was first made public by China’s state-controlled media outlets...Cathay Pacific officially announced Hogg’s departure 30 minutes later.

China seems to be floating the story it had Hogg fired to tamp-down on the widespread support Hogg is getting for his courageous decision to resign. On the other hand, Hong Kong media stories concur Hogg was asked to hand over a list of Cathay employees. Hogg responded by providing his own name. Hogg’s heroic defiance prompted many Hong Kong netizens to praise him with comments....

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16 August 2019

China business or human rights? Hong Kong protests leave Cathay facing a tough balancing act

Author: Surya Deva, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

The recent notice from the Civil Aviation Administration of China, that no Cathay Pacific staff who had taken part in “illegal protests”, “violent actions” and “overly radical activities” would be allowed to fly to or from mainland China – and the response of Cathay as well as its major investor Swire to this notice – has put the spotlight on the issue of companies’ human rights responsibilities. Similar questions have been raised about the responsibility of companies supplying tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds to Hong Kong Police, or of companies whose shopping malls protesters may enter and take shelter in.

…In June 2011, the UN Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), which outline an authoritative framework for corporate human rights responsibility…over and above any responsibility that companies may have under domestic laws…Moreover, Cathay Pacific has a code of conduct which provides…that any “form of harassment or discrimination on the basis of … political opinion will not be tolerated”…

So far, Cathay has (i) sacked two of its airport employees for leaking information, (ii) terminated the employment of two pilots for their involvement in, or support for, protests, (iii) instructed that Cathay property should not be used to post non-work content or to make unauthorised public announcements, and (iv) advised its employees not to “express any radical opinions in social and open media” or “support or participate in illegal protests”, or otherwise face disciplinary action, including  termination of employment…

Cathay’s decision in the first situation would be justified and in line with its responsibility to protect the privacy of its customers, as long as due process was followed and the disciplinary action was proportional to the alleged wrong conduct. However, the dismissal of two pilots, who were previously suspended from duty, for protest-related incidents is problematic. The pilot charged for alleged rioting has not yet been convicted, and, even if convicted, this should not be equated with a typical crime.The conduct of the other pilot hardly compromised passenger safety or harmed Cathay’s reputation. The termination, which appears to have been done to please Beijing and discourage other staff from supporting protests, would run counter to Cathay’s responsibility to respect the human rights of its employees…

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13 August 2019

Cathay Pacific sacks two pilots over Hong Kong protest-related incidents

Author: Danny Lee, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

Cathay Pacific Airways…said it had sacked a pilot who was arrested and charged over clashes between police and anti-government protesters in Sheung Wan on July 28. Another cockpit crew member…who was revealed…to have been suspended for misusing company information related to the protests, also had his employment terminated.

A spokeswoman said the move was made “in accordance with the terms and conditions of their employment contracts”. The sackings came after the company fired two airport ground employees for leaking the passenger information details of a Hong Kong police soccer team. “Cathay Pacific wishes to make it clear that we express no view whatsoever on the subject matter of any ongoing proceedings,” the airline said …

Cathay Pacific and sister carrier Cathay Dragon, reportedly under pressure from Beijing, have publicly supported the Hong Kong government’s handling of the escalating protest movement. On Wednesday, the company reiterated its “firm support” for the city’s embattled government…

Last Friday, China’s aviation regulator banned any Cathay staff who had taken part in illegal protests from operating flights in mainland airspace. The Civil Aviation Administration of China’s demands also included the airline submitting aircrew lists for Cathay flights entering Chinese airspace for pre-approval. Flights which did not go through the procedure would be barred from its airspace. As a result of the threat of losing the right to fly to and over Chinese airspace, Cathay has cracked down hard on staff. On Monday, the company threatened to sack any employee who actively supported the protest movement, including taking part in the illegal airport demonstrations…

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