Travel fears mount over Cathay strike


(TVLW) – The travel industry yesterday warned more than 200 flights a day will be affected during the Christmas season if Cathay Pacific flight attendants go on strike over the airline’s medical plan.
Joseph Tung Yao-chung, the Travel Industry Council executive director, said the sector is concerned about the possibility of a strike.

“Christmas has always been the busiest season and it is difficult to get seats elsewhere as all the other airlines are fully booked,” said Tung.

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“The media keeps asking what’s plan B for the travel agencies. Frankly, there’s not much we can do if the flight attendants insist on [going on] strike, which will result in flights being canceled.”

Tung said he hopes both sides will calm down and try to avoid a situation in which tourists coming to Hong Kong and locals planning a holiday break overseas would be affected.

Cathay Pacific currently accounts for between 40 percent and 50 percent of all incoming and outgoing passenger flights.

Li Wai-keung, general manager of Sunflower Travel Service, said 30 percent of his agency’s 600 tour groups for the holidays are booked on Cathay flights and its subsidiary Dragonair.

Li said travel agencies can only hope for the best and that if a strike does occur Cathay Pacific will be able to switch to other airlines.

“We haven’t received requests from customers wanting to switch flights to other airlines yet,” said Li.

“I think, for travel agencies and travelers, there really isn’t much we can do. Cathay Pacific is experienced in dealing with labor disputes. We just hope they can resolve it this time around without any disruptions to flights.”

The airline said it has an average of 200 flights departing and arriving every day during the Christmas and New Year holiday season, and that it is close to being all booked up.

“We do believe our staff are responsible, dedicated and professional,” a spokeswoman said in response to talk of a strike.

Cathay Pacific said it has contingency plans such as increasing the number of stand-by staff.

The dispute arose from a medical plan put forward by the airline that would affect 10,000 employees. Under the plan, staff will need to contribute HK$30 and HK$50 per consultation with a doctor or specialist starting next year. They have not been paying for consultations in the past.

The union has said it cannot rule out industrial action – including a strike, “no cabin service” and collective sick-leave action.

Last week more than 500 flight attendants took to the streets to protest against the policy, resulting in the airline amending the policy to include an additional 10 free medical visits.

The union has not accepted the offer yet, but Cathay described the additional visits as a generous compromise.

Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants’ Union chairwoman Becky Kwan Siu-wa said it will decide in the next few days whether to take the protest a step further. They will collect views from members and stage another protest tomorrow.