HONG KONG: Cathay Pacific Airways will rehire hundreds of cabin crew who were previously laid off or resigned ahead of plans to ramp up its flight services.
The airline company invited former staff who had said they would like to be contacted for future jobs to send a priority application in an email seen by the South China Morning Post on Wednesday.
"I'm pleased that as we look to resume our flight operations, it is the right time for us to begin rebuilding our team," Jeanette Mao, the airline's general manager overseeing in-flight service, said in the email which was sent on Tuesday.
A Cathay Pacific spokeswoman confirmed the airline would be hiring pilots, cabin crew, ground staff, engineers and other front-line employees to meet its operational needs.
She said the company had been reviewing its staffing requirements for the coming 18 months to two years given the time needed to train new staff, and was planning for "the anticipated recovery" in Hong Kong and global aviation during this period.
"We have started to reach out to former cabin crew of the Cathay Pacific Group who we had to part ways with during the restructuring in 2020, but who expressed an interest in being notified when opportunities to rejoin Cathay Pacific arise," she said.
The Hong Kong flag carrier began recruiting more local pilots since summer last year. It said it had added 200 pilots for Cathay Pacific, with a total of 300 across the Cathay Pacific Group's airlines.
The carrier resumed its cadet pilot programme in April as part of a new collaboration with Polytechnic University with the aim of training more than 280 local cadet pilots this year and more than 1,000 by 2025.
The company shed a record 5,900 jobs in October 2020 when it axed its regional airline Cathay Dragon and imposed a range of permanent and temporary staffing cuts in the first half of 2021, further reducing its workforce by 2,500.
In April, Cathay operated at about 2% of its pre-pandemic passenger capacity, while its cargo capacity stood at 29% of pre-pandemic levels.
At the end of 2021, Cathay Pacific and its subsidiaries employed more than 21,600 people worldwide, of which about 17,700 were employed in Hong Kong. That was down from 25,600 worldwide, of whom 20,800 were employed in the city at the end of 2020.
On May 1, authorities eased several restrictions, including reducing the hotel quarantine period for passenger flight crew to three days and reducing the length of a flight route suspension mechanism if a flight carried infected passengers to five days.
Cathay Pacific increased its flight schedule from June, including adding daily flights to and from London's Heathrow airport and resuming or boosting passenger flights to the United States, Australia, New Zealand and India.
The Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Union vice-chairwoman Grace Siu said according to its information, the current roles being recruited were for junior cabin crew positions. It takes about six weeks to train cabin crew.
While all former crew had been invited to apply, she did not think many ex-senior flight attendants would send in an application as the salary would be far below what they had previously earned.
"I don't think for those who are quite senior in the past days they will rejoin. But for those who are quite junior, like they joined maybe two or three years, maybe the new contract's difference is not so big. Then they might consider it if they love flying, if they love the crew lifestyle," she said.
While the current quarantine restrictions on flight crew would not be appealing for staff, Siu added the recent easing of some rules had given hope that they would end "sooner or later".
A Cathay senior crew member told the Post that while a few former staff were applying for the roles, some senior crew were not applying because the positions were junior cabin crew posts.
Isaac Leung Ka-fung is among those waiting for the opportunity to return to their former career. The 39-year-old worked for seven years as a member of ground staff before achieving his goal of becoming a flight attendant, and rose to become a purser for seven years at Cathay Dragon.
He has recently been working as a personal assistant, but says it is his dream to return to the skies.
"I hope they will hire me again," he said.
Many former flight crew have started new careers, including flight attendant Grace Chiu Sze-nga, who worked for Cathay Dragon for 19 years before she was laid off. She said she would not be returning to her former career.
The 42-year-old started her own business LazyG Cakes in 2020, making desserts using the Korean flower piping technique. She has since grown her company to include teaching about 30 students a month, some of whom have started their own businesses after taking the course.
"It is easier to join school activities or even a dinner gathering with friends. I can plan my own 'roster' now," the mother-of-two said.
"I don't miss flying, but I miss my workmates. It is like I miss my family member."