Union criticized for whitewashing Cathay crew’s discrimination
Published: May 25, 2023 10:09 PM Updated: May 26, 2023 12:59 AM
Cathay Pacific Airways staff are processing boarding procedures for passengers in Hong Kong on May 24, 2023. Photo: VCG

Cathay Pacific Airways staff are processing boarding procedures for passengers in Hong Kong on May 24, 2023. Photo: VCG

Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific's flight attendants' union was blasted on Thursday for whitewashing the cabin crew's discrimination against non-English-speakers. Far from acknowledging the crew's misconduct, the union sympathized with the fired staff and called to protect crews from being recorded by passengers, causing the airline, which has repeatedly apologized over the discrimination incident, to make a clarification twice on Thursday to draw a demarcation line with the union.

The union's remark was widely blasted by netizens as muddying the water and distracting public attention from the nature of the discriminatory incident. Experts said the union turned a blind eye to the fact that the passengers' rights had been violated, and that the union whitewashed the crew and described them as victims and the passengers as perpetrators, showing the divided attitude within Cathay Pacific.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union expressed deepest regret regarding the incident, which resulted in three cabin crew members being fired.

The union blamed the rising complaints about cabin service on colleagues' extremely low morale caused by the company's ignorance of "a shortage of both manpower and resources, a significant increase in workload and low salaries," saying that the passengers' actions to record the behavior of crew members seriously disturbed their work.

Cathay Pacific clarified on Thursday that the union is independent and never represents the company, saying the airline doesn't accept, support or agree with the union's position on the matter.

The scandal related to crew members' misconduct has already caused inevitable harm to the airline's brand and the union's statement further disappointed their customers and some of the crew members, Chu Kar-kin, a veteran current affairs commentator based in Hong Kong and member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Experts said the Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union is an independent union that does not cooperate with company management when it comes to conflicts involving employees. The company's management apparently hopes to defuse public opinion in the mainland by apologizing and dismissing related employees, but the union will not cooperate and will only please the employees.

"Apparently, the union has confused the identity of serving or being served. It should only focus on what a union should do, such as hourly rates, maximum working hours per week and welfare, rather than being affected by political issues. Their high-profile exposures on politics in the past were very frustrating. The non-designated union purposes and activities should be put to a halt," Chu Kar-kin said.

Besides the statement, there was also a separate internal English-language email circulating online that seemed to have been sent from Cathay Pacific's Director Service Delivery Mandy Ng to its members. 

The letter read that it was distressing to see they were being "falsely accused" of many different things. According to the South China Morning Post, the union said that according to the manual for cabin crew members, employees who witnessed a passenger photographing or filming others without their consent during a flight should ask that the recording be deleted.

Despite Cathay Pacific on Thursday claiming the letter was fake and saying it reserves all rights to take legal action, some netizens questioned the company's clarification and believed the email could be real.

"What a bad impression the email has made! If it is really fake, why don't they just call the police to conduct a comprehensive investigation to find the plotter," a netizen commented.

"The public in the mainland doesn't have to change our position, regardless of Cathay Pacific's attitude. We don't care what their flight attendants think of us in their minds, but never will we allow them to show their bad feelings to us during their service. What we pay for as consumers is their service and respect," said another mainland netizen.