Flight attendants at Cathay Pacific’s regional subsidiary Cathay Dragon have voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action over the Hong Kong-based airline’s response to the novel Coronavirus outbreak but have stopped short of announcing strike dates in a last-minute reprieve for the airline.
At an emergency meeting of members of the Hong Kong Dragon Flight Attendants Union on Saturday, nine out of every ten votes cast backed industrial action including mass walkouts. The union, however, said it would give Cathay Pacific a final chance to meet its demands.
Flight attendants have been calling on the airline to temporarily suspend all flights to mainland China in an attempt to prevent the spread of the novel Coronavirus that has now sickened at least 34,800 people, resulting in 724 deaths as of Saturday evening.
The vast majority of those struck down by the mystery SARS-like illness have been in mainland China.
The Cathay Pacific Group has already cancelled 90 per cent of its services to the mainland with its namesake brand pulling out altogether. Cathay Dragon is still operating flights between Hong Kong and Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen but on a much-reduced frequency.
The flight attendants union would like Cathay Pacific to pull the plug on those services as well and also ramp up protective measures for its members. Cathay Pacific says it is limited in the number of face masks and anti-bacterial gel it can offer because of dwindling supplies in the region.
Cathay Pacific has modified its in-flight service for flights to the mainland in order to “provide enhanced protection for our customers and crew”. Hot towels, pillows, blankets and magazines have all been pulled, while passengers in both Economy and Premium Economy will only be served disposable snack bags.
Business Class passengers are being served a modified tray service with appetiser, main course and dessert served together on a single tray.
Members will hold a rally near Hong Kong International Airport on Sunday afternoon to discuss possible industrial action and to gain more support from flight attendants who did not take part in the ballot.
Algernon Yau Wing-wah, Cathay Dragon’ chief executive appealed to flight attendants on Thursday to think carefully about going ahead with a strike, warning that it might breach their terms of employment.
“If you fail to report for duty in accordance with your roster, this will be treated as missed duty and unauthorised absence, and the company reserves the right to take action against you according to your conditions of service and the Employment Ordinance,” Yau cautioned.
Union chiefs dismissed the memo, saying the warning would only embolden its members further.
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 used by some of the biggest names in journalism.