Unions urge Cathay Pacific to end 'white terror' after cabin crew union leader dismissed

Unions urge Cathay Pacific to end 'white terror' after cabin crew union leader dismissed

Rebecca Sy, head of Cathay Dragon's Airlines Flight Attendants' Association
Screengrab of a video of Rebecca Sy, the head of Cathay Dragon's Airlines Flight Attendants' Association, speaking at a press conference on Aug 23, 2019.

HONG KONG: Cathay Pacific Airways, which is caught in the crosswinds between authorities in Beijing and protesters in Hong Kong, must put an end to "all forms of white terror", trade unions in the Chinese-ruled city said on Friday (Aug 23).

The carrier has become the biggest corporate casualty of the protests after China demanded it suspend staff involved in, or who support, the demonstrations that have plunged the former British colony into a political crisis.

READ: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) called a news conference after the sudden dismissal of Rebecca Sy, the head of Cathay Dragon's Airlines Flight Attendants' Association, after a 17-year career.

Sy said she was fired, without explanation, after managers saw and confirmed her Facebook account. HKCTU said 14 people have been fired so far over the protests, and called Sy's dismissal a "blatant act of suppression".

"All the employees are being frightened, not just cabin crews, but even the management," Sy said. "My colleagues are all terrified because of its white terror."

White terror is a common expression to describe anonymous acts that create a climate of fear.

READ: Crew describe climate of fear at Cathay after Hong Kong sackings

Cathay Pacific did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Shares of the airline were down more than 1 per cent, lagging a 0.6 per cent gain in the benchmark Hang Seng Index.

Sy's departure, which Cathay confirmed on Friday, follows last week's shock resignation of chief executive Rupert Hogg, the highest-profile corporate casualty of the unrest.

Cathay pilots and cabin crew have described a campaign of political denunciations, sackings and telephone searches by Chinese aviation officials.

Recent weeks have been extremely challenging for its employees, the Hong Kong carrier, which is 30 per cent owned by Air China, said ahead of Friday's news conference.

"We thank all our dedicated staff who are committed to serving our customers in a professional manner," said James Tong, its director of corporate affairs.

READ: Hong Kong protesters plan airport 'stress test' to disrupt operations

READ: Money, muscle, media: How China has handled Hong Kong protests

The demonstrations, which have occasionally shut the airport and businesses in the Asian financial hub, still have broad support, despite some violent clashes between police and protesters.

HKCTU said "white terror" loomed for the entire aviation industry, and demanded that Sy be immediately reinstated.

Walking a tightrope between the protests and political masters in Beijing, many Hong Kong firms are opting to toe the Communist Party line to avoid potential repercussions following the experience of Cathay Pacific Airways. 

Source: Reuters/cy

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