Last week, the UK’s flag carrier British Airways called in 89 Hong Kong-based cabin crew for a ‘meeting’. The crew were informed they would be made redundant – the majority would be laid off immediately, while around 24 of that number were ‘fortunate’ enough to have until the end of October to make plans for the future.
The airline has given little reason for the redundancies, simply saying the decision was “difficult” and had been made for various “commercial reasons” after a “detailed and thorough review”. Many of the sacked cabin crew who had worked for the airline for years provided vital cultural and language support on BA’s 82-year old route between London and Hong Kong.
Under Hong Kong law, British Airways wasn’t obliged to consult with the crew, provide severance payments or offer support. And it seemed like BA was going to take full advantage of Hong Kong’s business-friendly employment law – the crew were offered seven day’s worth of pay as severance but only if they accepted immediate dismissal.
At the time, the airline’s PR team went into overdrive – not to defend BA’s decision to sack so many hardworking staff but instead to change the narrative completely. As the international cabin crew were being called into meetings, the airline breathlessly announced an exciting new partnership with Saville Row designer Ozwald Boateng to design a new company uniform.
It was all so reminiscent of a leaked email from an advisor to former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair on September 11th, 2001 who told staff “It is now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury.”
The UK’s largest union, Unite the Union has called the airline’s behaviour “outrageous”, saying it breaks “all moral codes of human and workplace dignity.” Unite has demanded British Airways revoke its decision but with little ability to actually challenge the airline’s actions, the demand has seemingly fallen on deaf ears.
In lieu of British Airways offering adequate compensation, Unite has set up a gofundme campaign to raise money for the sacked Hong Kong-based crew. In just five days, the campaign has raised over £75,000 – along with many of the airline’s employees, loyal frequent flyers have also decided to part with their cash to help the affected crew.
The fundraising campaign is aiming to reach a target of £88,888 – perhaps, because of the significance of the number 8 in Chinese culture for good luck and fortune.
Meanwhile, some of the sacked crew held a sit-in at BA’s now closed office in Hong Kong today. They have demanded the airline meet with them to negotiate their redundancy packages – the airline has reportedly extended its deadline for staff to sign the termination agreements while talks continue.
“Our focus remains on supporting affected crew members during this time,” the airline said in a written statement.
“This decision (to close the Hong Kong crew base) follows a detailed and thorough review of our global operation,” it continued. “We are confident we can continue to offer customers on this route the world-class service they deserve.”
“We have listened to feedback from our colleagues, and in their best interest have agreed to extend the deadline.”
BA’s decision to close its Hong Kong crew base follows the closure of international bases in Singapore, Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo.
Donations can be made to the Go Fund Me campaign here.
This article has been updated with an addition of a written statement from British Airways.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.