Cathay Pacific to close Vancouver base in June as part of ‘ongoing business review’ putting 147 jobs at risk

Danny Lee

Cathay Pacific is to close its final cabin crew base in Canada as part of its “ongoing business review”, putting 147 jobs at risk.

Flight attendants are expected to meet with the airline on Friday and into the weekend, however, sources told the Post the airline planned to close its Vancouver base on June 26.

“As part of our ongoing business review, we have made the decision to close down our Vancouver cabin crew base. We are communicating with the union,” a spokeswoman for the airline said.

A memo to the affected Vancouver crew from the airline’s senior managers in Hong Kong cited the coronavirus epidemic for having accelerated the decision to close the base.

The viability of the crew base was thought to be vulnerable with the loss-making Vancouver-New York route, which flew on from Hong Kong, signposted for closure at the end of March. But with the virus impacting travel around the world its closure had been brought forward to last month.

The expected job losses highlight the challenges facing the world’s airlines during the coronavirus epidemic, which has seen several rounds of emergency cost cutting.

On Thursday, the International Air Transport Association warned that the speed and breadth of the deadly outbreak could cost airlines US$113 billion in revenue.

Cathay closed its Toronto base last year, affecting 120 people. Some crews had been offered transfers to Vancouver at the time as part of avoiding job losses.

The jobs lost in Toronto came as part of a restructuring of overseas staffing at the airline, which was said to have affected several hundred employees worldwide.

Cathay’s last major jobs cuts came in 2017 when the airline restructured its Hong Kong headquarters, shedding 600 head office jobs.

Cathay parks half its fleet and slashes three-quarters of March flights

A memo to crew, signed by Jeanette Mao, the airline’s general manager for the in-flight services department, said the axe had been a possibility for quite some time.

“The commercial viability of the Vancouver cabin crew base has been a concern to us for some time,” Mao said.

“Starting from early 2019, we have been engaging with your union...to discuss the long-term sustainability of the base. Unfortunately we have been unable to reach any agreement.”

She added: “With the current business environment and changes to our operations globally and to Vancouver the decision could not be postponed further.

“I am afraid we have now reached the point where we can no longer foresee circumstances in which it is possible for us to sustain this way of operating the base.”

Cathay Pacific employs about 13,000 flight attendants and outside of Hong Kong, it has overseas bases employing cabin crew locally in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, Bangkok and Singapore.

The airline’s contract negotiations with Vancouver crew started around the same time it announced the closure of the Toronto base in February last year.

As part of the negotiations, Cathay was only willing to offer a two-year contract, with no pay rise over the period, plus it removed overtime payments and cut pension contributions by four per cent.

Vancouver has become an important long-haul destination over the years for Cathay. At its peak, the airline operated 17 flights a week. The deep cuts in the airline’s flight schedules saw that reduced to a daily service.

Cathay has had a tough week after announcing the suspension of cadet pilot training, before overturning its decisions hours later on Monday. It was also fined £500,000 for a massive data breach in 2018.

The airline, one of the carriers worst hit by the spread of Covid-19, is already cutting back on flights by 75 per cent in March, and 25,000 employees have agreed to take three weeks of unpaid leave, among other savings measures.

It has frozen hiring and halted non-critical spending and pressed suppliers for cost savings.

This article Cathay Pacific to close Vancouver base in June as part of ‘ongoing business review’ putting 147 jobs at risk first appeared on South China Morning Post

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