British Airways crew in Hong Kong hoping to reverse decision to axe city base in wake of shock sackings

Union seeking three-week delay in airline’s decision to close base as they look to British counterparts for support

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 7:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 10:26pm

British Airways’ axed Hong Kong crew are demanding the airline give them three more weeks to consider whether to accept the compensation offered.

The traumatised employees are hoping to use the extra time to talk management out of closing the city base, while also bargaining for a better deal.

BA dropped a bombshell on Wednesday, announcing that it was axing its entire Hong Kong-based crew ahead of the closure of its base in the city next month.

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 expire.

The airline asked the cabin crew to sign an agreement by Saturday stating they would accept an ex gratia payment, the amount of which has not been revealed.

“We were not told how much the ex gratia payment was, and we were not told the formula to calculate the payment. No details have been given,” said Carol Ng Man-yee, general secretary of the BA Hong Kong International Cabin Crew Association.

“But if you don’t sign the agreement, you would not be receiving the ex gratia payment. You would only receive a sum of compensation in accordance with the labour law.”

Under the city’s labour law, workers are entitled to long service and severance payments, the amount of which partly depends on years of service. The government has a standard formula to calculate the payments.

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Ng is trying to secure a meeting with airline management, so she can make the union’s demands heard.

None of the union’s 54 members have signed the agreement, but Ng believed some non-members might have signed it already.

The airline’s announcement on Wednesday turned the flight attendants’ world upside down, with one crew member, Kimie Chan, bursting into tears and saying she felt “helpless”.

BA said on Wednesday it was “really grateful” to its Hong Kong crew, but its “strategic model going forward is to operate this route entirely with London-based crew”.

Veteran unionist Lee Cheuk-yan, general secretary of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said Ng stands a better chance of having her demands fulfilled if she can secure the support of the airline’s union in Britain.

“The airline’s sacked staff in Hong Kong can’t even go on a strike, because they have been sacked,” Lee said. “The union in Britain needs to support the Hong Kong union.”

Ng said she had been in touch with union leaders in London, but they had not yet decided on whether to take any action.

British Airways’ parent company, the International Airlines Group, had highlighted the 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, and said Cathay Pacific, which flies to Heathrow five times a day, was having an adverse affect on revenue.