British Airways’ senior managers and sacked Hong Kong workers reach agreement after tense negotiations
Deal done to grant more time for staff to sign termination agreements after 20 crew staged a sit-in at the carrier’s office, over their unhappiness with lack of transparency regarding payments
Dismissed British Airways Hong Kong cabin crew and the airline settled key grievances on Thursday as axed staff were granted more time to sign termination agreements.
In crunch talks that went late into the night, representatives for Britain’s national airline flown in from London agreed to giving an extra week for flight attendants to sign off on leaving the airline in return for a severance package – a deadline of October 11. On top of that, BA agreed to provide a partial breakdown of the redundancy package on offer.
An earlier sit-in protest outside the airline’s downtown office in Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island culminated in a two-hour negotiation between the airline and unions at the Labour Department offices in Kwai Hing.
Nearly two dozen sacked workers turned up at the office to support the two individuals representing them.
In the afternoon, the group waited outside the airline’s closed office, which was surrounded by security from the building’s property manager.
Several police officers were also present.
“Shame on BA, shame on BA, respect me, respect my union, negotiation now,” the group chanted, while holding placard reading “shame on BA”.
Asked how the meeting went when she emerged for a short break at 9.30pm, Carol Ng Man-yee, general secretary of the BA Hong Kong International Cabin Crew Association, replied: “Nasty.”
The carrier asked crew representatives during the meeting why they had not sought legal advice about their contracts.
At 10.30pm, all cabin crew waiting outside the mediation were invited in for a briefing. Several minutes later, dismissed employees walked out with smiles on their faces, happy with the outcome of the meeting.
“We believe a further extension of one week is sufficient for everyone to seek legal advice accordingly,” said Ng, who led the talks for her dismissed colleagues, signalling one of the big grievances following the redundancy announcement was overcome.
On the calls for clarity on the payouts to staff, Ng stressed her members were not seeking more money, but rather transparency.
“The ex gratia payment, first time round, was one big lump sum and didn’t explain clearly what we wanted to know like the payment in-lieu, pro-rata Chinese New Year holiday bonus and holiday pay. Now it’s clear. We feel this is the achievement of the protest. That is what we were asking for from day one.
“We urged the company constantly since day one, we urged them to talk to the union and we had a list of questions that we wanted answered. The response at the time was so bad and that caused us to protest at the airport and at the office,” said Ng.
In an emailed statement, a British Airways spokeswoman said: “We have listened to feedback from our colleagues, and in their best interest have agreed to extend the deadline.”
Among the offer to crew includes a “generous” redundancy package – in some cases worth up to HK$700,000. It was providing a financial breakdown of the lump sum payments to employees too.
“Our focus remains on supporting affected crew members during this time,” the airline added.
Britain’s national airline, which has been flying to Hong Kong for 82 years, said last Wednesday it would close its cabin crew base in the city at the end of October.
The carrier operates two daily flights from Hong Kong to London Heathrow. The announcement affected 85 Hong Kong-based flight attendants.
About 57 were laid off immediately, with another 24 to finish at the end of October, when their contracts expired, according to the union.
Initially, permanent staff were given until last Saturday – three days after being axed – to accept compensation terms. If they did not agree in time, they would only get the minimum required under Hong Kong labour laws.
As a backlash mounted last week, the airline said it would revise an ex gratia payment and extend the deadline for the attendants to accept the separation offer to Friday.
Ng said the company had sent a lot of information to the sacked workers and they needed more time to “make sure we understand every single word and every single figure”.
The union’s mistrust in signing termination documents partly stems from a dispute over incorrect salaries paid to some crew members last month.
When it announced the dismissals, BA said it intended to operate its flights with UK-based crews. The decision was made after a “detailed and thorough” review of the company’s global operation, an airline spokeswoman said.
The company’s move follows a gradual trend of withdrawing non-UK cabin crew bases, which were seen as more expensive.
Singapore, Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo crew bases were closed last year.