- Employees warned about what they do in and out of work hours as staff details are leaked by pro-government group on Telegram app
- Carrier even tells staff not to discuss anti-government protests during preflight briefings
Cathay Pacific Airways has warned staff their social media content will be heavily scrutinised, and said posts expressing support for anti-government protests in Hong Kong could fall foul of a strict new policy being forced on the airline by the Chinese aviation authority.
In its latest notice to staff, the city's flag carrier explained how it was fulfilling conditions imposed by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) on August 9, which included a ban on aircrew who joined or supported illegal protests from operating flights to mainland China, or using Chinese airspace.
The company reminded staff it would take a "zero tolerance approach" to those taking part in illegal activities, and any employee who did so could be fired.
But the carrier could not say what constituted support for illegal protests, violent action or overly radical behaviour, as it said it was a complex issue with no guidelines explaining the criteria.
"Employees should reflect on and examine their own behaviour in relation to these points, exercise sound judgment and avoid putting themselves in a position where they could reasonably be questioned for being in breach of these conditions of the notice," the company said.
Since the authority intervened, four pilots, CEO Rupert Hogg and his deputy Paul Loo Kar-pui have left the company. One of the pilots sacked has been charged with rioting, while another was said to have misused company information related to the protests.
A third pilot made remarks supporting a sit-in at the airport in a broadcast to passengers during a flight.
The company also said "work- and non-work-related social media usage" might breach the CAAC notice.
"Depending on the context, this may include, but is not restricted to, creating and posting content, sharing content and/or comment on the posts of others," it added.
The airline said it was taking action because anyone who used social media should be aware that information spreads quickly.
"What might be assumed to be a private conversation among friends often travels further than one had intended," the airline said, as it tried to rein in staff before outsiders target employees publicly, particularly through doxxing, where personal information is leaked on the internet without the owner's consent.
"Alleged breaches of the CAAC notice will be investigated and addressed quickly," the staff notice added.
The airline also told staff it had no idea when the aviation regulator's scrutiny might ease.
"The notice does not specify a time frame, therefore these conditions will be in place until any further updates from the regulator," the internal memo said.
The company also said it had a business model "that can withstand what we hope are short-term external factors", however, and remained optimistic over the company's outlook.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Cathay employee said there was growing "paranoia" among the airline's staff.
Apart from orders from managers not to discuss anything related to the protests while on duty, she said employees had also faced doxxing attacks.
Private photos and the names of about a dozen airline staff were recently posted in a pro-government group with more than 13,000 members on the messaging app Telegram.
In some cases, mobile numbers were also leaked, alongside clippings of social media postings supporting the protests, or criticising police.
"It is very frightening. You can be doxxed and have your phone number and address leaked," the employee said.
As a result, some colleagues had made their social media accounts private and removed some previous posts, they added.
All these made employees feel like their private lives and freedom were being infringed upon.
The employee also said managers had been reminding staff not to say "anything unrelated to in-flight services" during recent preflight briefings.
Replying to a request to comment, Cathay Pacific referred to comments made by new CEO Augustus Tang Kin-wing to staff on his first day.
"The way every single one of us acts, not only at work serving our customers but also outside work " on social media and in everyday life " impacts how we are perceived as a company," Tang wrote in an internal memo.
"We have made very clear that we have zero tolerance for illegal activities or breaches of our own policies."
Additional reporting by Sum Lok-kei
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