Cathay Pacific Airways asked thousands of workers Wednesday to take three weeks off without pay to help the company get through the coronavirus crisis.
CEO Augustus Tang made the plea to the Hong Kong-based airline’s 27,000 employees in a video message, saying the deadly outbreak has put the company in “just as grave” a situation as the financial crisis of a decade ago.
“Preserving our cash is now the key to protecting our business,” Tang said in the video. “… All of us need to respond to this rapidly changing and challenging environment.”
Cathay Pacific employees will have the option to take unpaid leave from March 1 to June 30, according to Tang. He urged all levels of the company’s workforce to participate, including its “senior leaders.” Tang did not say in the video whether he would take leave himself.
The air carrier has cut 90 percent of its flights to mainland China amid the coronavirus outbreak, which has sickened more than 20,000 people and killed more than 400, including one person in Hong Kong. Other airlines including United, American and Delta have halted trips to the Chinese mainland as officials urged travelers to avoid the country.
Cathay Pacific is also asking suppliers to cut prices, implementing a hiring freeze, halting “non-critical” spending and pushing back major projects is it grapples with the impacts of the disease, according to Tang. The company’s Hong Kong-listed stock closed up 2.7 percent Wednesday.
Cathay Pacific previously implemented similar leave schemes in 2009 during the worldwide financial crisis and the 2003 SARS outbreak in China, both of which also led to flight reductions.
One Cathay Pacific flight attendant told the South China Morning Post that the company’s latest offer made sense, but added that the airline had not given its crews enough protective face masks.
“When the airline does not even have enough masks, it’s not bad to let us go on leave,” he told the outlet, adding that the company should pay back staffers who take time off when its business recovers.
With Post wires