Cathay Pacific asks workers to take unpaid leave as virus hits demand, Latest World News - The New Paper

Cathay Pacific asks workers to take unpaid leave as virus hits demand

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SYDNEY: Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways has asked its 27,000 employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave, saying preserving cash was key for the carrier and that conditions were as grave as during the 2009 financial crisis due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Cathay is also asking suppliers for price reductions, putting in place hiring freezes, postponing major projects and stopping all non-critical spending, chief executive Augustus Tang said in a video message to staff seen by Reuters.

On Tuesday, the carrier said it planned to cut about 30 per cent of capacity over the next two months, including about 90 per cent of flights to China.

Cathay had already experienced a sharp fall in demand since the middle of last year due to widespread, sometimes violent, anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

The virus, which has led to a death toll of at least 490, has led to a further drop in visitors and passengers transiting through Hong Kong's airport.

"This has been one of the most difficult Chinese New Year holidays we have ever had," Mr Tang said in the video.

"We don't know how long this will last. With such an uncertain outlook, preserving our cash is now the key to protecting our business."

Cathay said in a statement it was appealing to all employees to participate in the unpaid leave scheme that will run from March 1 until June 30.

Mr Tang said it was the first time the company has offered an unpaid leave scheme since 2009, when demand plummeted due to a global financial crisis.

"We had the overwhelming support of our employees," he said, about surviving the 2009 scheme. "It made an enormous difference. The situation now is just as grave and I ask for the same commitment to the future from you."

The leave scheme, first reported by the South China Morning Post, is not mandatory but employees are encouraged to take it, a spokesman said. - REUTERS