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Cathay Pacific Asks Staff to Take 3 Weeks Unpaid Leave, Flight Attendants Threaten Strike if Airline Doesn’t Stop China Flights

Cathay Pacific Asks Staff to Take 3 Weeks Unpaid Leave, Flight Attendants Threaten Strike if Airline Doesn’t Stop China Flights

The chief executive of embattled Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific has called on the carrier’s 27,000+ staff to take up to three weeks of unpaid leave as the airline faces up to a mounting crisis stemming from the novel Coronavirus outbreak.

Cathay Pacific, which was already grappling with weakened demand following months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, has seen forward bookings drop even further following the Coronavirus outbreak. There have so far been 18 confirmed cases of the virus within the territory and one death from the SARS-like illness.

Cathay Pacific
Flight attendants at regional subsidiary Cathay Dragon have threatened strike action unless the airline suspends all services to mainland China. Photo Credit: Cathay Pacific

Chief executive Augustus Tang asked staffers in an internal video message on Wednesday to consider taking unpaid leave to help out the airline as it deals with the unfolding crisis.

“I am hoping all of you will participate, from our frontline employees to our senior leaders, and share in our current challenges,” Tang said in the message.

Even before the Coronavirus outbreak, Cathay Pacific had been asking both cabin crew and pilots to take unpaid leave as a way of reducing costs. At the time, a spokesperson for the airline said it was extending the offer of unpaid leave as a lifestyle option, stressing that the offer was not compulsory.

At the moment, it’s not believed that anyone will be forced to take unpaid leave but that could change as the situation develops.

The plea from chief exec Tang came as the union representing flight attendants at regional subsidiary Cathay Dragon threatened strike action unless the airline suspends all services between Hong Kong and mainland China.

Yesterday, the said it would temporarily suspend 90 per cent of its flights to the mainland but Cathay Dragon would still be operating services to both Beijing and Shanghai. The cuts formed part of a wider 30 per cent reduction in its global schedule because of plummeting consumer demand.

“This was one of the most difficult Chinese New Year holidays we have ever had,” Tang said in his video message, referencing the fallout from the mystery virus.

“…and we don’t know how long it will last,” he continued. “With such an uncertain outlook, preserving our cash is now the key to protecting our business,” Tang warned.

“I realise this is difficult to hear. And we may need to take further steps ahead. But by supporting the special leave scheme, you will be helping at our time of need.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the Hong Kong government announced plans to quarantine anyone entering the territory from mainland China for a period of 14-days in a bid to stem the spread of the Coronavirus. The policy will come into effect on February 8.

In the meantime, the border between Hong Kong and the mainland will remain open – a policy that has drawn ire from Hong Kong citizens and thousands of hospital workers who have staged a strike in protest.

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