Cabin crew at Cathay threaten to demonstrate

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 March, 2010, 12:00am

Cathay Pacific Airways flight attendants have hit out at the airline's plan to cut staff layover times for flights to Milan from 48 to 28 hours, saying it will affect service and safety.

The airline's Flight Attendants' Union has threatened to protest on Thursday if management does not meet its members before noon on Wednesday about reinstating the present arrangement and withdrawing a separate policy that restricts shift-swapping by attendants.

Becky Kwan Siu-wah, vice-chairwoman of the union, said the airline announced a cut in layover time for staff on a quarter of flights to Milan from March 28, when the carrier begins a direct service to the Italian city.

'We have been enjoying at least 48 hours of outport resting time if we fly to cities with a time difference of six hours or more. This is a consensus between us and the company,' Kwan said. Usually, attendants work a five-day roster if they fly to and from Europe, she said. The new arrangement would shorten the trip to four days by reducing the rest period.

She said the move would not only affect the income and rest time of staff but also posed a threat to the quality of safety and service.

'We're afraid that this will apply to other long-haul flights in the future, too,' Kwan said.

The complaint came two days after the airline suspended indefinitely a new policy requiring attendants to work at least 70 hours a month before they can swap shifts with colleagues. The airline said some attendants had abused the roster system and pocketed a minimum salary despite working less than 70 hours. The new policy was put on hold after attendants threatened to strike during the Easter break.

About 500 staff attended a union meeting yesterday to discuss the issues. They requested a meeting with chief executive Tony Tyler, urging him to withdraw the policy.

They also expressed concern that management had deployed Bangkok-based crew to work on flights from Hong Kong to Melbourne under a three-month trial.

A Cathay Pacific spokeswoman said that since the airline would launch four flights to Milan per week, one would have to operate on the four-day pattern.

'We've got 7,097 flight attendants, and it takes nine to 11 years for a flight attendant to get this four-day Milan schedule once,' she said, adding changes would be made when the route was up and running.

She said the airline had only 24 cabin crew based in Thailand, and the impact on Hong Kong staff would be minimal. She said the union had been approached for a meeting.