The head of Cathay Pacific’s flight attendants union today said that she was fired over posts made on social media pertaining to the city’s ongoing protest movement, as the airline reels under apparent pressure from the mainland to bring itself in line with Beijing’s stance.
At a press conference today, Rebecca Sy, chair of the Hong Kong Dragon Airlines Flight Attendants’ Association, revealed that she was called to a meeting at Cathay Pacific headquarters and presented with screenshots from her private Facebook account.
When she confirmed that the screenshots were of her account, the managers said they would be terminating her employment. When she asked why, she added, the manager replied, “I’m sorry, I can’t tell you the reason.”
Sy had been with the Cathay Dragon – a regional airliner that’s wholly-owned by Cathay Pacific – for 17 years and was given one month’s salary following the termination of her employment.
One of the posts made reference to the airport protests where she said she was worried about what would happen next, a second post featured some of her thoughts on the resignation of the shock resignation of two of its executives, while another was a photo of a happy birthday message written on a Post-It note, the mainstays of the pro-democracy Lennon Walls that have sprung up across town.
During her tearful press conference, Sy said: “I never thought about giving up the company, but it’s a shame the company gave up on me.”
She said that this wasn’t just about her losing her job, and that “all my colleagues are terrified because of this white terror.”
“I feel so sorry for them because I’m no longer in that position to protect them. I used to be the one to stand behind them, to back up all of my colleagues,” she said. “But now what I can do is to tell everyone what’s happening, and they will get the support of all of you, all the Hong Kong people.”
Also at the press conference was Carol Ng, chair of the Confederation of Trade Unions, who said the group would file a lawsuit on behalf of Sy, and that she would file complaints to the International Civil Aviation Organisation and other international unions.
Ng also said that 14 people in the aviation industry have either quit their jobs or been dismissed for reasons related to the recent protests. The most high-profile resignation came from Cathay pilot and Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam, who announced on Facebook on Tuesday that he would be quitting the airline, where he had been a pilot for two decades, in a bid to protect the airline from “unreasonable attacks.”
Beijing appears to be making an example of Cathay over perceptions that it was overly tolerant of pro-democracy supporters in its ranks. China’s aviation authority slapped the carrier with new regulations forbidding supporters of the Hong Kong protests from staffing Cathay flights in mainland airspace, prompting the carrier to warn its staff they could be fired for taking part in “illegal” protests.
The airline’s CEO and another top executive also resigned amid the turmoil.
In a very brief statement today, Cathay Pacific’s director of corporate affairs, James Tong, said that Hong Kong’s flag carrier “fully supports the upholding of the Basic Law and all the rights and freedoms afforded by it.”
“We are a leading international airline with global operations and therefore we are required to comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the jurisdictions where we operate.”