Cathay Pacific and its cabin crew have delivered the best possible Christmas gift to many thousands of travellers by striking an agreement that averted industrial action. A work-to-rule campaign was due to begin on Friday, with the threat of a strike by New Year's Eve. The flight attendants' union abandoned its demand for more than a 2 per cent pay rise, but won concessions that address concerns about working conditions and job security.
That is also good news for Hong Kong. The airline is a symbol of the city. Few companies are as highly respected and few brands as closely identified with the city. In a cutthroat industry, its reputation for management skills and service is a priceless asset amid tough times. It would be regrettable if an internal dispute detracted from its image.
The seemingly intractable stand-off, played out in public for days, has to be seen from the point of view of consumers, who want certainty in travel arrangements. The union targeted Cathay during peak season, a time when it is vulnerable. That makes negotiating sense.
Thankfully, compromise and goodwill prevailed at the eleventh hour. But talk of industrial action and strikes can undermine confidence and prompt passengers to consider switching to another airline. This is no time to be encouraging loyal customers to sample a competitor.
Public perceptions are important. Loss of confidence among passengers could impact on the whole company. There may be room for the airline to anticipate problems by communicating more regularly with representatives of flight crew on work and efficiency issues. They are, after all, responsible for conducting its core business of flying people around the world, often while management is at home in bed. That said, labour relations in Hong Kong are generally quite good. The union and the airline have a history of conflict, but we are not used to militant industrial action. Hopefully Cathay can avoid it in future. Damage to the airline's reputation would damage Hong Kong.