Cathay Pacific, is it a victim of White Terror or a perpetrator?

Text: Chan Chiu-wai

In the past 4 months, anti-extradition law protestors in Hong Kong have proven to the world that they are persistent and firm with their demands. Protesters from different walks of life, sectors took part in assemblies, writing campaigns and strikes. Despite police brutality, they continue to voice out loudly. The Hong Kong Government, instead of listening to the people, deploys various vicious measures, hoping to silence the people. Beijing, "the black hand behind all these chaos", continues to believe money is the solution and threatens Hong Kong workers with layoffs. Employees in the aviation sector are among those most retaliated ones. 

Politically motivated dismissals: Cathay fails to keep its promises

On 8 August, Chairperson John Robert Slosar of Cathay Pacific Airways, the home airline of Hong Kong openly announced in the press conference that the enterprise would not interfere with employees' political views. Yet, within days, Cathay Pacific made a U-turn and started to sack its employees who showed sympathy to protesters.

Civil Aviation Administration of China (hereafter: CAAC) issued a major aviation safety risk warning over Cathay Pacific, accusing flight personnel of Cathay Pacific had participated in violent acts and been charged for related crimes, but were not being banned from aviation activities. CAAC even claimed that some of the passengers' information was leaked maliciously. It further ordered Cathay Pacific to ban all staff who have participated and supported "illegal protests and violent activities" in Hong Kong, as well as those with records of extreme behaviors, from flying mainland-related flights or performing other duties related to mainland aviation. Cathay Pacific was required to submit information of all crew members who fly flights to the Chinese mainland or over the airspace of the mainland to mainland civil aviation authorities. Without approval, flights would not be accepted to the mainland, CAAC warned. 

Professionalism and efficiency are the key of success of Cathay Pacific and its subsidiary branch Dragon Air. Their safety record has been far more outstanding than the Chinese airlines, which are famous for their ongoing disputes over equity, mismanagement and objects falling from their aircraft.  

Though Chinese and Hong Kong Governments keep calling the society to put political disputes aside and put economic development as the priority, their approach to force business to serve their political purpose is simply contradictory.

"Transfusion of blood" of Cathay's leadership

After China's high-profile criticism against Cathay Pacific, many enterprises released statement to reaffirm their "loyalty" to the Chinese Government. Cathay Pacific itself delivered a statement on 13 August, saying it "is deeply concerned by the ongoing violence and disruption impacting Hong Kong. We resolutely support the Hong Kong SAR Government, the Chief Executive and the Police in their efforts to restore law and order." Resignations of Rupert Hogg (CEO) and Paul Loo (Chief Customer and Commercial Officer) followed on 16 August, as retaliation kicked in. 

On 21 August, Rebecca Sy, the head of Cathay Dragon's Airlines Flight Attendants' Association, after a 17-year career, was suddenly dismissed. According to the trade union, over 30 employees in the sector have been fired so far over the protests, a blatant act of suppression.

A groundless dismissal

Rebecca recalled that she was summoned to a meeting with the management. She was asked to identify three screenshots from her Facebook account, and was then fired on the spot. The first screenshot shows some sticky notes with "Happy Birthday" written on them, to celebrate a coworker's birthday. However, the management claimed that those sticky notes were part of a Lennon Wall. The second screenshot is a note she wrote, sharing that she felt worried about going to China. On the third screenshot was a post of her dissatisfaction with the resignations of the two company leaders. The management simply asked her if they were from her facebook account. After she confirmed it, they said, "we must dismiss you immediately and we cannot tell you the reason."

"Many of my colleagues are prepared to be "fired". They are worried that they would get the company's call at anytime." Rebecca describes. She is angered and disappointed by Cathay Pacific's attitude. "Employees' rights to participate in lawful protests are restricted and now our private social media channels are under surveillance. The company has become a conspirator of the authoritarian regime. It is forcing the workers to choose between freedom or bread."

Despite the dismissal, Rebecca is not defeated by white terror and the climate of fear. On 6 September, her fellow trade union members hosted an extraordinary general meeting, appointing her to be the Chief Executive of the Trade Union. In other words, she is not leaving, she will continue to fight for her coworkers' and fellow members' rights.  Though it came as a shock, Rebecca remains positive and does her best to encourage others, "you might not be able to change the world, but never let the world alternate you!"

"One man may steal a horse while another may not look over a hedge.

The Government gave a green light when the policemen gathered, 

but it said it would hold other civil servants accountable if they dare to assemble. 

Police attacking passersby, no condemnation from government and no apology from police.

Government condemns protesters when public order is disputed.

Government turns a blind eye when police attack protesters, but 

it criticizes harshly when protestors fight back.

Supporters of police threw tons of national flags into rubbish bins, the government remained silent.

Protestors threw one national flag to the sea, the Government named it as to challenge the leadership of the Central Government. 

Men in white, equipped with batons, walked side by side with police in ease.

Citizens in black, passed by a protest location, were accused of carrying extendable spears.

Rioters in white are detained, but released on bail and face no charge.

Protesters are detained, no bail allowed and sent to court in short notice.

Is enforcing the law selectively reasonable? Is it acceptable for the Government to adopt double standard?"

This post is widely shared in social media, as it precisely illustrates the cause of the current anti-government / anti-police sentiment. Double standard is not only practiced by the Government, but also enterprises, especially those pro-government enterprises, such as Dragon Air, a subsidiary of Cathay Pacific. Its CEO, Algernon Yau reposted a highly political and insulting post on his facebook (see photo caption below), calling others "cockroaches". In some European countries, such a post could be considered as "hate speech", as it incites violence or prejudicial actions against a group or individuals on the basis of protected attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Hate speech has nothing to do with freedom of expression, it is simply violence.  


Algernon Yau, CEO of Dragon Air shared a post on his facebook, calling protesters "cockroaches"

Being a high-ranked business leader, sharing such hate speech and inciting violence, why wouldn't he be accused of harming the brand image and reputation of Cathay Pacific? Is it because he is also a member of the National Committee of China People's Political Consultative Conference from Xian City? Is it because of his identity as a Chinese official, he can walk free from political suppression? When ex-CEO Rupert Hogg and many employees of Cathay Pacific and Dragon Air are sacked and replaced by people like Algernon Yau, is a vivid example of "bad money driving out good money"m how could Cathay Pacific restore its image and reclaim its business share after all these blows? Does more publicity work help? Most observers have their doubts.

Join force and stand firm in the face of tyranny

Allan Au, a senior journalist of Hong Kong recommended the Hong Kong people to read Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny. This historian of Yale University summarized certain historical teachings and suggested us to resist tyranny by doing the following:

To defend and participate in institutions related to ourselves, such as professional organizations, trade unions, corporation.

To be as courageous as we can, to stand up at crucial moments.

To bear professional ethics in mind and stick to it.

To connect with people with different backgrounds and positions, to personally get in touch with people who are not our friends.

To donate to civil society organizations.

To learn from international community.

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What is White Terror?

The White Terror was a period during the French Revolution in 1795, when a wave of violent attacks swept across much of France. The victims of this violence were people identified as being associated with the revolutionary forces. Another source of White Terror refers to the government of the Third Republic of France confronting the regime of the Paris Commune, the commune was represented by red; the government army white. The French government violently cracked down the communes and it was known as "White Terror."

The term "White Terror" has since evolved to refer to the government's political suppression of dissidents, such as through political prosecutions, even kidnappings, assassinations, ethnic cleansing, and banning other political parties, creating an atmosphere of terror and fear in the society, in order to silent the opponents and general public.

At the corporate/institutional level, an authoritarian management can create white terror in the workplace. Studies have even shown that white terror at the corporate/institutional level is causally related to workplace bullying.

Solidarity Post, HKCTU #16