Cathay Pacific warns staff to stay away from Hong Kong general strike

Cathay Pacific Airways expects employees to report to work and will monitor attendance closely.
Cathay Pacific Airways expects employees to report to work and will monitor attendance closely.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Cathay Pacific Airways warned employees not to take part in a general strike in Hong Kong planned for next week, underscoring companies' efforts to limit the damage from the city's months-long protests and avoid falling foul of Beijing.

Those participating in the strike that is called for next Monday (Sept 2) and Tuesday risk getting fired, Mr Tom Owen, director of people at Cathay Pacific, told staff in an internal memo confirmed by the airline.

The carrier expects employees to report to work and will monitor attendance closely, according to the memo. It reiterated that it has zero tolerance for any support or participation in illegal protests.

"Cathay Pacific Group does not approve of this strike," Mr Owen said in the memo. "Any participation during working hours would be prohibited and would constitute a breach of your employment with the Cathay Pacific Group. Any breach of policy or regulatory requirements will be investigated and may lead to termination of employment."

Cathay Pacific has become a symbol of the danger companies face in Hong Kong as they seek to steer clear of angering Beijing - Chinese authorities imposed a swathe of demands on the airline over its workers' participation in the demonstrations.

At least seven employees have left the carrier in the turmoil and chief executive officer Rupert Hogg resigned abruptly to take responsibility for the airline's troubles.

What's happened to Hong Kong's flag carrier has raised concerns about whether companies that want to do business in China are upholding their employees' rights to free speech and assembly as citizens of Hong Kong.

Hundreds of people gathered on Wednesday demanding that Cathay Pacific rehire workers who left the airline after supporting the city's protests.

A general strike earlier this month caused a shutdown of the airport, cancelling hundreds of flights from Cathay Pacific's hub. Meanwhile, some Chinese state-owned firms have boycotted the airline, raising further concerns that the demonstrations in the city could undermine the company's efforts to turn around its business.


Last week, Cathay Pacific cautioned its employees that misuse of social-media platforms could be a breach of rules set by the Chinese regulator. Any violations will be investigated and addressed quickly, said the airline, which generates about half of its revenue from operations in Hong Kong and China. Most of its 32,800 workers are based in the city.

The airline also said last week that it expects "significant impact" on its revenue from August and beyond as the protests weigh on travel demand.

Both business and leisure travel into Hong Kong has "weakened substantially" and traffic from the city has started to soften, especially on short-haul routes to China and South Korea, Cathay Pacific said.