Cathay to close Toronto cabin crew base, putting 120 jobs at risk

PHOTO: South China Morning Post

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 the 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 "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".

Cathay Pacific said in a statement that no job cuts had been decided yet and that 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.

"We are communicating with the union and exploring options for potentially affected colleagues including opportunities in other bases subject to local regulations.

"There are no current plans to close other Cathay Pacific outport cabin crew bases."

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 (S$700 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 functions such as in digital.

The airline 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, with that, hiring 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, to advise of the Toronto closure. The union has been contacted for comment.

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

The Post reported in 2016 how some 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, saving money but the decision was disputed.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post