British Airways axes entire Hong Kong crew ahead of closure of base in city next month
BA Hong Kong International Cabin Crew Association calls move to fire 85 flight attendants inhumane and ugly
British Airways axed its entire Hong Kong crew on Wednesday ahead of the closure of its local base next month, the airline’s head office has confirmed.
Unionists said 57 of the 85 Hong Kong-based flight attendants were laid off immediately, with another 24 to finish at the end of next month when their contracts expired. They slammed the move as “inhumane” and “ugly”.
Britain’s national airline, which has been flying to the city for 82 years, said it would close its Hong Kong cabin crew base at the end of October. The carrier operates two daily flights from Hong Kong to London Heathrow.
“While we are really grateful to our crew in Hong Kong for all of their hard work and dedication over the years, our strategic model going forward is to operate this route entirely with London-based crew,” a company spokeswoman said, implying flights would not be affected.
She said employees in Hong Kong had been told about the closure. The decision was made after a “detailed and thorough” review of the company’s global operation, she said.
“We have promised our cabin crew based in Hong Kong our full support at this time,” the spokeswoman said, adding the company was confident the service level would be maintained.
The BA Hong Kong International Cabin Crew Association, which represents 54 of the workers, held an emergency meeting on Wednesday evening and said it would contact union leaders in Britain to work out a response.
Staff were given a letter at a meeting with management on Wednesday, informing them their employment had been terminated with immediate effect, association general secretary Carol Ng Man-yee said. She said they were only told about the meeting on Tuesday.
“There had been rumours about closing the Hong Kong base in recent years. We had expected doomsday to come one day, but we had not expected BA to handle it in such an ugly manner,” she said.
“It is betraying the staff members who have been so loyal to the company.
“It would be naive for the company to think they can stop us from staging protests if they can fire us all quickly. There are still many ways of resistance. And they have not seen anything yet,” warned Ng, who was seeking a meeting with management in the next few days.
Among those affected, 61 were on permanent terms. Four of them, including Ng, are on sick leave and have not yet been served their letter.
Ng said permanent staff were given until Saturday to accept compensation terms. If they did not agree in time, they would only get the minimum required under Hong Kong labour laws.
Contract employee Kimie Chan burst into tears when asked about her plans. “I feel helpless. It came so suddenly, with unexpectedly short notice,” she said.
Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho, a commercial pilot, said the airline should have notified the employees earlier.
“[The workers] could at least have started looking for a new job,” Tam said.
He noted the service for Hongkongers could be affected if there were fewer Cantonese-speaking staff on flights.
Parent company International Airlines Group (IAG) had highlighted BA’s Hong Kong to Heathrow service as an underperforming route at its half-year financial earnings meeting with analysts.
Chief financial officer Enrique Dupuy de Lome singled out Hong Kong as Cathay Pacific, which flies five times a day to Heathrow, was having an adverse effect on revenue.
IAG’s stable includes Spanish carrier Iberia and Ireland’s Aer Lingus. British Airways recorded an operating profit of £1.77 billion (US$2.33 billion) in 2017, up 18.9 per cent on the previous year.
Hong Kong is traditionally one of the airline’s stronger routes as it attracts lots of high-paying business travellers and those opting for more expensive premium seats. The airline’s cargo division also conducts brisk business in the city.
Airlines around the world are battling to keep costs under control with external shocks such as rising oil prices and global trade uncertainties mounting.
Cathay Pacific, which “code shares” flights with BA, last year underwent a massive restructuring involving laying off about 600 staff.
The plan slashed 190 managers and 400 non-management staff from the company, but did not affect frontline workers such as pilots and flight attendants.
BA’s closure of the cabin crew base in Hong Kong was identical to a move it made in Singapore a few years back. According to Ng, Singapore-based staff were given six months’ notice about the plan.