Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. cabin crew authorized union leaders to initiate industrial action, stepping up a pay dispute ahead of the year-end travel rush.
Flight attendants could work-to-rule or refuse to do some tasks such as serving food to passengers in the run-up to Christmas, Dora Lai, chairwoman of the cabin-crew union, told reporters in Hong Kong yesterday, after members voted in favor of action. Workers may go on strike over the New Year or the February Lunar New Year holiday if Cathay fails to respond to requests for more pay talks, she said.
“If they run Cathay Pacific as a low-cost airline, then we will have to conduct a low-cost airline service,” Lai said after a meeting of more than 1,600 union members or their representatives. “We have no choice.” The union represents more than 5,800 of Cathay’s 9,000 flight attendants.
The labor group, which originally asked for a 5 percent pay rise, is seeking talks after Cathay announced an increase of about 2 percent. The Hong Kong-based carrier is also trying to cut costs because of waning long-haul travel demand and higher fuel prices.
The union didn’t say when it would begin industrial action. A strike would be a “last resort” and it won’t happen before Christmas, Lai said.
Cathay is disappointed by the union’s move, said Liza Ng, its head for cabin crew. The airline, which reported a first-half loss, last month banned spending on festive gatherings, scraped a management conference and cut entertainment spending to a “bare minimum.”
Cathay fell 0.4 percent to HK$13.58 at close of trading in Hong Kong yesterday. The carrier has risen 2 percent this year, compared with the benchmark Hang Seng index’s 21 percent jump.
The pay offer to cabin crew is “fair,” Ng said. Workers will also get a discretionary extra month’s pay. Cathay has said it’s prepared to meet the union to discuss “lifestyle and operational matters,” provided the threat of industrial action is ended.
The last time Cathay flight attendants staged a strike was during the Lunar New Year holiday in 1993 when about 1,000 cabin crew walked out for 17 days, the longest in the union’s history, according to Tsang Kwok-fung, a spokesman for the Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union. Since then, there have only been smaller actions such as working to rule, he said.