British Airways has laid off 85 of its Hong Kong-based cabin crew in an attempt to curb expenditure.
The airline told HKFP on Wednesday that it plans to close its Hong Kong cabin crew base at the end of October, saying: “While we are really grateful to our crew in Hong Kong for all of their hard work and dedication over the years, our strategic model going forward is to operate this route entirely with London based crew.”
British Airways currently operates two daily flights between London and Hong Kong.
A termination of employment letter published by Apple Daily said that the airline no longer found it commercially viable to operate its Hong Kong Cabin Crew base. It said that affected employees are to be made redundant with immediate effect.
British Airways told HKFP that the decision was made to improve operational efficacy: “We constantly review all aspects of our operation to ensure that we are running our teams as efficiently as possible to offer our customers the world-class service they deserve.”
“The decision follows a detailed and thorough review of our global operation and we have promised our cabin crew based in Hong Kong our full support at this time. ”
Among those affected is long-serving flight attendant and labour activist Carol Ng, who also acts as the general secretary of the British Airways Hong Kong International Cabin Crew Association. Ng had worked for the airline for 26 years.
Ng said British Airways was being irresponsible since staff members only had about three days to individually consider a compensation plan offered by the company.
She said the company claimed that if staff members do not agree to the compensation plan, they may not receive an ex-gratia payment, and the company may use staff members’ Mandatory Provident Fund accounts to offset the compensation, meaning that they ultimately will not receive extra payment.
“It is using a short period of time to force colleagues to make a rushed decision,” Ng said at a press conference on Wednesday night.
Ng said she was seeking a meeting with management in two days. “Some of us have served for 10 to 20 years, some more than 30 years, and what we got at the end was disrespect,” she said.
Ng said that local cabin crew who are familiar with the local language and culture are necessary when there are disputes and emergencies on flights.
She also said that when British Airways closed its Singapore cabin crew base, staff members were notified six months in advance. They received compensation that was double their monthly wages, multiplied by the number of years served.
Contract employee Kimie Chan, who worked at the company for six years, burst into tears at the press conference, saying that the decision was very sudden.
She said there have been rumours over the years that the company may lay off staff.
“Many people had told us that we should find another job. But many of us stayed because we loved this job and we worked together happily,” she said.
Some of the staff members – who possess passports of European Union countries – asked to be transferred to the UK base. Ng said British Airways said it was willing to assist in providing interview opportunities, but would not promise to hire them.
Ng also said UK staff members proposed to launch a crowdfunding campaign to help Hong Kong staff.
“We are gratified – we have always supported each other in the past decade,” she said. “They were very saddened – it’s the truth. We can’t even say goodbye formally.”
Additional reporting: Kris Cheng.