PEACE talks between Cathay Pacific management and leaders of the striking Flight Attendants' Union (FAU) are due to be held today after frantic late-night mediation by Labour Department officials at both the company's and union's offices at Kai Tak. A team led by Senior Labour Officer, Mr Leung Ming-cheung, brokered an agreement between the two sides to begin the first face-to-face discussions on the issue of cabin crew manning levels since the FAU began strike action on Wednesday night. Since the walk-out 50 Cathay flights have been cancelled as an estimated 2,100 of the 3,800-strong union joined the strike. A total of 18 outward flights were scrapped yesterday because of cabin crew shortages. The last to be grounded were the 10.30 pm CX171 bound for Perth and CX251 which was due to leave for London at 11.30. Passengers without accommodation in the territory were put up in hotels by the company, which said that both flights would go ahead this morning. Cathay said it believed everyone other than passengers on the Perth and London flights had found a seat either on its aircraft, planes that it chartered or with another airline. Flights into Hongkong were also badly hit, with 19 being cancelled. There was far less friction in the terminal as management stepped up its public relations effort and provided more information for passengers. Labour Department negotiators shuttled between Cathay management and the FAU offices for 21/2 hours to set up the meeting. When they approached the FAU at 8 pm, the union stressed that talks could only take place if the company agreed to reinstate the three members who were sacked early in December for refusing to operate at lower grades. But after a series of negotiations a spokesman for the mediators said: ''Both sides have said they will talk to each other at 11 am without any pre-conditions. The venue is still to be arranged and so is the agenda, but the most important thing for Cathay Pacific, the public and Hongkong in general is that both sides will be talking to each other.'' A Cathay spokeswoman said: ''We have always been willing to talk to the FAU and are obviously pleased that the union has decided to agree to a meeting.'' The FAU estimated that another 1,700 Hongkong-based flight attendants joined the strike yesterday. Hongkong's flag carrier confirmed that a further six cabin crew were sent letters of suspension yesterday, bringing the total to 35 in the past three days. The stoppage escalated globally, curtailing Cathay services for the second successive day and disrupting the travel plans of thousands of people ahead of next week's Lunar New Year holidays. The company chartered 10 planes from other Asian airlines to move their passengers, although most of them were delayed for many hours. Of the 43 incoming flights, 19 were cancelled and 24 operated subject to delays. Among those scrapped were long haul flights from Paris, London and Amsterdam. The union instructed all members not to report for work late on Wednesday night after talks between the two sides over manning levels broke down. Cathay maintains that some flight attendants will occasionally be asked to undertake junior duties below their normal grades when staff numbers have been hit by sickness, holidays or operating difficulties. But the FAU says its members are being asked to ''act down'' because Cathay is not recruiting enough attendants to meet demand. Cathay's general staff manager, Mr Ian Wilson, denied union claims that the safety on flights the company was managing to operate with management and trainee attendants in the cabin could be jeopardised. He also dismissed union allegations that staff were being harassed by Cathay-hired personnel trying to break the strike. ''We have not banged on anyone's doors at two o'clock in the morning,'' he said. ''What we have done is provide every facility for crew members who wish to come to work. There have been many crew members who have contacted us for assistance to help them come into work.'' The union spokeswoman said Cathay officials were endangering passenger safety. ''They have been putting probationary or trainee attendants on flights together with management who have no experience of flying,'' she said. ''This raises the question of safety because these people have little or no training to carry out these duties.'' Mr Wilson said that while the numbers of cabin crew on certain flights were not up to the usual levels, all services operated by the company yesterday had more than the legal minimum of fully qualified staff. And Mr Wilson maintained that although delays were inevitable while the dispute continued, Lunar New Year holiday travellers should get to where they wanted to go. ''We see no reason why anyone holding a confirmed booking on a Cathay Pacific flight should not be able to make their journey in the days and weeks to come,'' he said. Airport industry trade unions in other parts of the world have helped the FAU in its bid to spread action through Cathay's worldwide operation, the union said. ''The flight attendants union in Australia have sent us a letter of support and told us that they will refuse to operate any flights that Cathay may charter from Qantas Airlines,'' the FAU spokeswoman said earlier. ''We have also received a message of support from the International Transport Federation in London. This strike is now truly global.'' Cathay shares appeared to have taken the strike in their stride falling only slightly by 20 cents to $9.40 yesterday, after a 10 cent rise on Thursday. The 324 passengers heading for Rome, London and Fukuoka, Japan who had to spend Thursday night in Hongkong all reached their destinations yesterday. Flight attendants have been complaining for months about a manpower shortage. They say Cathay should hire 300 or 400 more cabin crew personnel instead of continuing its practice of shuffling workers into lower-status jobs. Cabin crew who continued to work yesterday did not run the gauntlet of 300 striking colleagues gathered outside Cathay headquarters and the Kai Tak departure area after scuffles broke out at both places on Thursday. Management escorted cabin crew to work through the nearby Hongkong Air Engineering Company building and teams of staff were on hand to inform travellers about what was happening to flights.