Coronavirus: Cathay Pacific gets discrimination warning after firing unvaccinated aircrew; city confirms 1 imported case

·5-min read

Cathay Pacific has been warned by Hong Kong’s equality watchdog that it could be breaching discrimination laws after the carrier fired aircrew who failed to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

On Monday, Ricky Chu Man-kin, chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), said differences in the way the airline’s staff were treated could be regulated under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance depending on each case, adding some of those dismissed had already contacted the independent statutory body.

“If certain staff members feel they were treated differently or were being discriminated against – such as being let go – because they could not get jabbed and meet the company’s requirements, they can file an inquiry or complaint to us,” Chu told a radio show.

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He said health-related concerns could be a valid explanation for not getting jabbed, adding that mediation, as well as legal action, could be possible if staff were deemed to have a valid case.

The city confirmed one imported Covid-19 case on Monday – a 26-year-old arriving from Qatar who had received both doses of the BioNTech vaccine in May. Medical experts have said that while vaccines do not offer total protection against infection, they vastly reduce the severity of the illness and likelihood of death.

The case brings the city’s overall tally of confirmed infections to 12,146. Hong Kong also recorded its 213th virus-related fatality on Sunday evening with the death of a 67-year-old man who had been in hospital ever since contracting Covid-19 in September last year.

Last week, Cathay said it had decided to “part company with a small number of aircrew” who had not received a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of August. The airline added that the workers had also not shown proof of medical exemption.

The carrier said all of its flights since September 1 had operated with fully vaccinated crew.

But some staff have complained they were fired despite health concerns relating to the jab. A flight attendant speaking on the same radio show as Chu said she was told about her dismissal this month, even though she had been seeing a doctor over suspected myocardial disease and was unsure if she should still get vaccinated.

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She said she went to the hospital in June because of chest pain, but doctors were uncertain about the cause, despite an electrocardiogram finding “issues” with her heart. She added she was expecting to see a doctor later this month.

The attendant said she had submitted her electrocardiogram to Cathay, but was told last week that her contract was being terminated immediately because she did not have a valid reason for not getting jabbed.

“How would I know whether there would be side effects?” she said. “This rigid way of letting go of colleagues who are not suitable to get jabbed, or who are unsure if they can get jabbed, is very unreasonable.”

The woman said she would ask the Labour Department for help, adding that some colleagues had approached the EOC as well.

A Labour Department spokeswoman said, in general, employees might consider filing claims against their employers if they were dismissed “other than for a valid reason” under the Employment Ordinance, although there were not provisions for the particular circumstances surrounding Covid-19 vaccination under the legislation.

She added that employers should “consider the needs of the employees who are not suitable for vaccination and consider making other appropriate arrangements for them”.

In a reply to the Post, a Cathay spokesman said the company understood several cases had already been filed with the Labour Department but declined to comment on individual ones.

Aircrew with medical reasons for not getting vaccinated “that were assessed and considered valid by our company doctors were not terminated”, he added.

Chu, who declined to comment on the flight attendant’s case, said if workers were unable to perform basic duties without a valid medical excuse, dismissal might be one option, but transferring them to another department was also a possibility.

The watchdog had received a total of 129 inquiries and eight complaints relating to differential treatment because of vaccination status as of last month, he added.

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University of Hong Kong microbiologist Dr Ho Pak-leung said myocarditis – typically a temporary inflammation of tissue around the heart – was one of the potential side effects of the BioNTech vaccine.

Many doctors would advise adults with possible heart problems to delay taking the jab, he added, but unless their symptoms worsened, most people – even those with chronic diseases – could safely take the vaccines.

Separately, the government on Monday announced that the number of coronavirus nucleic acid testing facilities in Guangdong recognised under the city’s “Return2HK” and “Come2HK” schemes would increase from 54 to more than 700 from Wednesday.

The two initiatives allow both residents and non-residents across the border to enter Hong Kong without undergoing quarantine.

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