Cathay Pacific Warns Employees Against HQ Protests

As the protests in Hong Kong edge towards their fifth month, Cathay Pacific has warned employee unions against protesting at their main headquarters. The move comes after an injunction against protests at the airport, following days of manifestations at the aerodrome. Here, we explore why unions would want to protest at Cathay City and the company’s stance.

Niki of Cathay Pacific at Cahay City
Trade Unions announced protests at Cathay’s HQ, Cathay City, also home of Niki, a DC-3. Photo: Windmemories / Wikimedia Commons

Aggrieved unions

The Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU) has called for protests at Cathay’s HQ following the reported termination of Rebecca Sy, chairwoman of Hong Kong Dragon Airlines Flight Attendants’ Association.

Per the South China Morning Post, Sy claims that the airline questioned her on her social media posts, in which she expressed disapproval over the resignation of Cathay’s CEO, Rupert Hogg. Following the questioning, Sy was apparently given the choice to resign or be terminated.

Cathay Dragon A330
Rebeca Sy reportedly worked at Cathay Dragon, Cathay Pacific’s regional airline. Photo: Afpwong / Wikimedia Commons

It is believed that Sy is one of more than a handful of Cathay employees who have either resigned or been sacked since the beginning of the protests. For its part, the CTU has called for an end of what it deems to be a “white terror” at Cathay, referring to a term used to describe the systematic suppression of dissent throughout history.

“We need to take a stand against the airline on Monday to protect workers’ basic freedoms to speak their mind during off-duty hours,” – Lee Cheuk-yan, Secretary General, CTU quoted by the South China Morning Post

HK Proest Umbrella
The CTU has been involved in general strikes and the protests undergoing in Hong Kong since March 2019. Photo: Studio Incendo / Wikimedia Commons

Trade unions have announced protests for today, the 26th of August.

Cathay Responds

In a press release, Cathay Pacific said that it has reminded its employees of the injunction given to the Airport Authority, noting that it also covers Cathay’s HQ, Cathay City.

The airline also noted that the company holds a “zero-tolerance approach to any support for or participation in illegal protests, violent activities or overly radical behaviour.”

Cathay City
Protests are set to take place at Cathay City. Photo: Nxn 0405 chl / Wikimedia Commons

In addition to the warning, the airline also underscored that its stance was influenced by security concerns. It stated that the facilities found at the site were critical for the safe and proper functioning of flight operations.

According to the SCMP, Tom Owen, director of people, told employees in an internal document that all staff should report to work “as normal and remain professional”.

Cathay and Swire find themselves between a rock and a hard place

Along with banking giant HSBC, Cathay Pacific and its owner, Swire Pacific, has been one of the most significant corporate casualties of the ongoing political tensions in the region. On one hand, the company must manage its public image in its home market of Hong Kong while supporting its staff.

Swire Properties
Swire, Cathay Pacific’s owner, has investments throughout the world in the property, shipping, food and beverage and transportation sectors. Photo: Cglas / Wikimedia Commons

On the other, however, the company must navigate measures by Chinese officials, in particular, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). The administration has required the Hong Kong airline to give identification details of its crew traveling to the mainland.

In truth, various statements by airline executives demonstrate dichotomous challenges. While the company has taken an arguably hard-stance on union protests, the airline’s Charmian previously underlined the company’s respect for its staff opinions, according to Reuters.

We certainly wouldn’t dream of telling them (employees) what they have to think about something. They’re all adults, they’re all service professionals. We respect them greatly.” – John Solsar, Chairman, Cathay Pacific.

Indeed, it seems that Cathay must, perhaps forcibly, play on all sides of the Hong Kong equation. What is certain, however, is that any move by the company which is perceived as too favorable to any one party could be detrimental for the airline.

Cathay Pacific Asia's World City
Hong Kong’s position as Asia’s world city has been challenged by the recent unrest. Photo: / Wikimedia Commons

Cathay Pacific nor Swire could be contacted for a comment.

What do you think of the airline’s warning to workers? Do you think Cathay and Swire can successfully manage the various pressures facing the company? Is the future bright for Hong Kong, and if so, how does it look? Let us know in the comments.