Hong Kong aviation

Hong Kong Express cabin crew seek to join trade union in wake of cancellation controversy

More than 100 staff at the budget airline have agreed to join the Cabin Attendants Union in order to increase their bargaining power

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 7:32am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 10:49pm

More than half of the cabin crew members at budget airline Hong Kong Express are looking to step up their collective bargaining power by joining an industry trade union.

The move – which has been in the works for months due to employee concerns about alleged staffing, wages and management – will be sped up in light of the recent flight cancellation controversy, which exposed problems with manpower at the company.

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Unlike larger, more established carriers like Cathay Pacific Airways, Cathay Dragon and those with large local operations such as British Airways, the HNA Group-owned Hong Kong Express, does not have their own labour union.

The Post understands that “more than half” – around 100 to 200 – of the airline’s 370 Hong Kong cabin crew have agreed to join the Cabin Attendants Union (CAU), a catch-all group for smaller carriers and contractors without the resources or capacity to run their own independent union.

The CAU was set up by the Confederation of Trade Unions-affiliated Hong Kong Cabin Crew Federation (HKCCF), which unions from Cathay, Cathay Dragon and British Airways are members of.

“Employees will meet within the next two weeks to discuss this. A vote will be held to elect a representative to the CAU,” a source close to the matter said.

Cabin Crew Federation general secretary Carol Ng Man-yee said the federation was assisting with the move and agreed that unionising soon would strengthen their collective bargaining power and push the company to speak to them seriously about industrial issues.

Ng said many crew members had been complaining about poor management. Problems included a tendency to operate a skeleton rosters, while still – as was the case of the recent golden week – overbooking flights.

“The pay at this company is actually OK but the business management is not,” one staff member, who wished to remain anonymous, said. “[Human resources] doesn’t seem to want to hire more people, but the company keeps overbooking flights.”

Many cabin crew members were asked to take up shifts right after their last one had just ended. Manpower shortages also meant they were promoting junior flight attendants into senior purser roles, often prematurely, the employee added.

On September 24, Hong Kong Express abruptly cancelled 18 flights scheduled to fly to and from Hong Kong, Seoul, Osaka and Nagoya from October 1 to 8. It later apologised for the disruption.

The problem was allegedly due to the loss of three key safety trainers and one training manager in August – reportedly due to a dispute with management. The resignations disrupted training for more than 700 cabin crew and pilots, who cannot fly until their safety licenses are renewed.

In an internal memo seen by the Post issued to staff on Monday to “clarify the facts”, Cowen told staff not to believe” negative comments in the media (many of them which are untrue)” and to avoid spreading “potential incorrect information by engaging in social media commentary”.

“The reason management took the decision ... was in fact a proactive measure to ensure a smooth October holiday for both our valued customers and staff,” Cowen wrote.

“We all want to avoid a situation where there is last minute cancellation due [to] sick crew and insufficient standbys, which then causes many knock-on problems.”

Cowen urged staff to focus on their professionalism and to ensuring safety of operations. “HKE will emerge stronger from this difficult time. I encourage you all to remain positive and focus on the work at hand. Together we are stronger,” he said.