Cathay acts against staff after China warning over HK protests

August 12, 2019 12:35
Cathay Pacific has succumbed to pressure from China and punished some staff who had participated in Hong Kong's ongoing protests. Photo: Bloomberg

Cathay Pacific Airways has suspended a pilot who was arrested during Hong Kong's anti-government protests and also fired two airport employees for alleged misconduct.

The Hong Kong flag-carrier said over the weekend that it will bar “overly radical” staff from crewing flights to the mainland, Reuters reports.

The move came after China demanded that Cathay suspend personnel who have engaged in Hong Kong's ongoing protests from staffing flights into the mainland airspace.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said in a statement on Friday night that Cathay crew who engaged in the Hong Kong protests pose a threat to aviation safety in mainland China.

The aviation authority ordered Cathay to provide identification information for its crew on mainland-bound flights.

Crew members that have not gained the authority’s approval will not be allowed into its airspace, including on flights bound for other destinations, from August 10.

The airline has also been ordered to draw up proposals to strengthen safety and security, said the CAAC statement.

The statement came after a Cathay pilot was charged recently with rioting after he allegedly took part in violent clashes with the police near China's main representative office in Hong Kong.

Following the China demand, Cathay said: “We have received the directive and are studying it very carefully. We are treating it seriously and are following up accordingly.”

“The safety of our passengers is always the top priority of Cathay Pacific. There is zero tolerance for any inappropriate and unprofessional behavior that may affect aviation safety. We deal with these incidents very seriously,” Reuters quoted a spokesperson as saying.

Earlier, on Thursday, Cathay said it respects “everyone’s right to express themselves in a peaceful and respectful manner,” while insisting it “recognizes that Hong Kong SAR is a part of China”.

“We do not condone any activities that jeopardize the stability of Hong Kong,” it said.

On Monday last week, aviation workers joined a strike that gridlocked Hong Kong, forcing airlines, including Cathay, to cancel hundreds of flights.

Responding to a question on the protests at a press conference last week, Cathay chairman John Slosar said the company respects its staff’s opinions.

“We certainly wouldn’t dream of telling them what they have to think about something. They’re all adults, they’re all service professionals. We respect them greatly,” he said.

Global Times, published by the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, ran news stories in recent days highlighting Cathay employees’ participation in the ongoing Hong Kong protests.

Cathay is 45 percent owned by Swire Pacific and 22.7 percent by Air China.

Following the news of the China crackdown, Cathay shares fell sharply in morning trading on Monday.

Shares fell more than 4 percent in early trade to a near 10-year low, hitting HK$9.82 -- their lowest since October 2018, Reuters reported.

“Not only is this likely to affect direct China flights, but also flights to Europe and, to a lesser extent, to the US, given that they fly over China airspace,” Jefferies analysts said in a note on Sunday.

“We believe near-term headwinds are likely to lead to further downward pressure on the share price.”

Jefferies, however, maintained a “buy” rating on the Hong Kong carrier, saying the company would remain profitable due to lower costs in the second half, according to the Reuters report.

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