Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways set to close Toronto cabin crew base, with up to 120 jobs at risk

Danny Lee
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Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways set to close Toronto cabin crew base, with up to 120 jobs at risk

Cathay Pacific Airways is closing its Toronto cabin crew base, saying it is not commercially viable, putting dozens of jobs at risk.

Flight attendants were told of the “disappointing and unsettling” changes when staff were invited to meet airline representatives at a hotel at Toronto International Airport to clarify their future, according to an internal memo obtained by the Post.

“The commercial viability of the Toronto cabin crew base has been a concern to us for some time,” the memo said, adding that the facility was now judged unsustainable.

Cathay Pacific said in a statement that no job cuts had been decided yet and it was reviewing with the affected 120 cabin crew members the next possible steps. It said it had “no current plans” to close other flight attendant bases.

“As part of our ongoing business review, we have made a decision to close down our Toronto cabin crew base,” a spokeswoman said.

The Hong Kong airline has progressively been axing jobs locally and overseas as part of a three-year cost-cutting effort to achieve savings of HK$4 billion (US$512.8 million).

The company is in the final year of a so-called transformation effort.

In the early stages of its cost-reduction measures, Cathay Pacific eliminated 600 jobs in 2017. Over the past year it has cut numerous jobs at airports and offices in cities it flies to, while hiring people for new digital functions such as data analytics.

Cathay has numerous overseas cabin crew bases to supplement Hong Kong flight attendants. Those include London, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Bangkok and Singapore.

The airline said it would continue to expand the number of flights and destinations it operates in, and hire more frontline staff, including more than 1,000 Hong Kong-based cabin crew in 2019.

Cathay said it had consulted the local union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), to advise of the Toronto closure.

Meanwhile, the union reacted with scorn to the latest round of closures.

“CUPE is deeply dismayed by Cathay Pacific’s announcement that the company intends to close its Toronto base, which will cause more than 120 flight attendants to lose their jobs,” it said in a statement.

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While the timing of the announcement came as the airline began its annual employee negotiations with crews in Toronto, there was criticism that it happened right after the Lunar New Year holiday.

“This latest news, and the lack of consultation surrounding the decision, reflects a disturbing pattern of indifference by the company toward its loyal employees,” the union said.

It added that the airline could have worked with the union and staff to address financial concerns first before closing the base.

“Flight attendants and the flying public they serve deserve better,” the union added.

A Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Union source expressed concern over more closures stemming from non-payment of social security and health insurance that had arisen, particularly in the United States.

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The Post reported in 2016 how about 400 US-based cabin crew in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles were affected by benefit entitlement changes, as the airline stopped making payments, to save money. But the decision’s legality was disputed.

Closing Toronto as an overseas location for the employment of flight attendants, plus outsourcing jobs in Vancouver, increased fears other locations would face the axe in future.

Cathay flies up to twice a day to Toronto in the summer, and three times a day to Vancouver from Hong Kong. It also flies daily to New York from Vancouver.

The move echoed the closure of a long-standing overseas crew base in Hong Kong for British Airways late last year, which affected dozens of jobs. The move partially highlighted how airlines prefer to switch jobs to their home, where staffing costs are cheaper.

This article Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways set to close Toronto cabin crew base, with up to 120 jobs at risk first appeared on South China Morning Post

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