Hong Kong Protests: Cathay Pacific Aircrew Union Head Fired for Facebook Posts, Outcry Over 'Blatant Act of Suppression'

The head of the Hong Kong Dragon Airlines Flight Attendants' Association announced Friday she had been fired by the Cathay Dragon airlines over her support for recent anti-China protests, prompting outrage among the territory's trade unions.

Rebecca Sy, who had worked for Cathay Dragon—a subsidiary of Hong Kong's flag carrier Cathay Pacific—for 17 years, said Friday she was suspended from her duties on Tuesday without warning or explanation as she was about to travel to China (via Reuters).

Sy told a press conference she was summarily fired on Wednesday at a meeting with airline management, in which officials presented screenshots of three Facebook posts—the visibility of which was restricted to Sy's Facebook friends—voicing support for the ongoing anti-Beijing demonstrations in Hong Kong.

At Sy's press conference, a representative of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) denounced Cathay Dragon's decision, noting that at least 14 people in the aviation industry have now quit their jobs or been fired because of their support for or involvement in the recent protests. The unrest began in March over a controversial proposed amendment to the autonomous territory's extradition laws.

Carol Ng, the chairwoman of the HKCTU, said Sy's dismissal was a "blatant act of suppression." Sy said a wave of "white terror"—an expression referring to anonymous acts creating a climate of fear—has beset the industry. "All the employees are being frightened, not just cabin crews, but even the management," Sy said. "My colleagues are all terrified."

China's central aviation regulator—the Civil Aviation Administration of China—has been pressuring Cathay Pacific over the protests. Demonstrators have periodically occupied the main terminal at the territory's airport, forcing hundreds of flights to be canceled. In response, the regulator has sought to ban all Cathay staff who have been involved in or supported the demonstrations.

The turmoil has reached the very top of the organization, with CEO Rupert Hogg and his deputy Paul Loo having departed the airline in recent weeks.

Ahead of Friday's press conference, Cathay Pacific Airways' director of corporate affairs James Tong released a statement emphasizing the organization's full support of "the upholding of the Basic Law and all the rights and freedoms afforded by it," referring to the legislation setting out the "One country, two systems" relationship between Hong Kong and China.

"We are a leading international airline with global operations and therefore we are required to comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the jurisdictions where we operate," he added, noting that recent weeks have been "most challenging" for Cathay staff.

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Hong Kong Dragon Airlines Flight Attendants Association chairperson Rebecca Sy, who was dismissed from her position as flight attendant for Cathay Pacific's low-cost subsidiary Cathay Dragon, is pictured during a press conference in Hong Kong on August 23, 2019. ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images/Getty