Tue, Aug 13, 2019 - Page 5 News List

HONG KONG PROTESTS: Cathay Pacific boss warns staff over protests


Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific yesterday warned staff that they could be fired for supporting “illegal protests,” as it came under pressure from Beijing over pro-democracy demonstrations in the territory.

The flagship carrier’s stock plunged more than 4 percent in Hong Kong trade yesterday, after Beijing imposed new rules banning airline staff involved in the Hong Kong protests from flights to or over China.

The airline last week canceled more than 150 flights as a result of a strike linked to the unrest and bookings have dropped since the protest movement began 10 weeks ago.

Cathay has struggled to find middle ground in the increasing bitter standoff between protesters in Hong Kong and local authorities.

Chief executive Rupert Hogg told staff that they could be fired if they participated in, or even supported, “illegal protests.”

“Cathay Pacific Group has a zero tolerance approach to illegal activities,” he wrote in a message sent to the company’s employees.

“Specifically, in the current context, there will be disciplinary consequences for employees who support or participate in illegal protests,” he said.

“These consequences could be serious and may include termination of employment,” Hogg said.

Cathay has come under fire from authorities and residents in China who accuse it of allowing staff to participate in illegal activities.

It has also been the subject of a boycott call on social media, fueled by articles from the powerful state media.

A #BoycottCathayPacific thread on Weibo last week attracted more than 17 million views and 8,000 comments.

Cathay has already suspended a pilot accused of rioting after allegedly participating in protests.

On Saturday, it said it had also fired two ground staff, without specifying why.

Media reported that they were accused of leaking the travel details of a Hong Kong police soccer team that was traveling to China.

The airline is subject to new regulations announced last week by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

The rules require the airline to submit manifests of staff working on flights going to China or through its airspace.

They ban any staff member accused of involvement in “illegal protests” from working on those flights, with authorities saying that airplanes could be prevented from landing if they fail to comply.

The rules came into effect on Sunday, and the regulator has demanded Cathay submit a report before Thursday on planned measures to “strengthen internal control and improve flight safety and security.”

Hogg said in an earlier message to staff that the airline was obliged to comply with the new CAAC regulations.

“Cathay Pacific Group’s operations in mainland China are key to our business,” he wrote. “We are therefore legally required to follow CAAC regulations and, as is the case with any notices issued by any regulatory authority having jurisdiction over us, we must and will comply.”

Cathay appears to have become a target of Beijing’s ire in part because some of its crew joined protests, including at the airport.

Hogg specifically warned employees not to join actions being staged at the airport, where protesters gathered again yesterday.

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