Cathay Pacific Airways’ flight attendants’ union will be holding a demonstration on 10 December in an effort to pressure the carrier to scrap the introduction of a new co-payment medical scheme and there have been suggestions the union may take strike action around Christmas if no agreement is reached.

The flight attendants are the most vocal opponents to the new medical scheme “but this scheme applies to the entire company, not just the cabin crew [and] most people see the benefit of it”, says a Cathay spokeswoman in Hong Kong, who cites as an example the Oneworld alliance carrier’s ground services union, which issued a notice to its members saying the new scheme is acceptable.

The airline is introducing co-payments for its medical scheme so staff will get better medical coverage, says the spokeswoman, adding that the cap on medical coverage will be increased.

She cites, as an example, the cap on medical consultations for junior employees which will be increased to HK$7,000 ($898) per year from HK$5,500.

“This new scheme is actually going to cost Cathay at least 10% more in medical expenses so it is not about saving money or getting more back from the employees,” she says.

When asked if the new co-payment scheme is part of the airline’s push to reduce absenteeism and fraudulent sick leave, the spokeswoman says: “Not really… That is not the over-arching principle behind it.”

Employees at the airline are currently required to produce a medical certificate if they take a day off sick but under the current medical scheme seeing a doctor or specialist is free.

Under the new scheme, which will come into effect on 1 January, junior employees are required to make a co-payment of HK$30 to see a doctor or HK$50 to see a specialist while more senior employees must pay HK$50 to see a doctor or HK$100 for a specialist.

Spokespeople for the Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Union have been quoted in the Hong Kong media as saying that if the union and airline are unable to reach an agreement by mid-December industrial action will occur over the Christmas period, either in the form of a strike, mass ‘sick-out’ or by having flight attendants refrain from serving passengers on board aircraft.

Cathay’s spokeswoman says the union has only made the threats through the media rather than directly to the airline. She says the airline has already spoken to the union on three separate occasions on the issue of co-payments and is open to having more discussions.

When asked if a flight attendants’ strike would disrupt operations, she says: “I’m not going to go that far… All that I want to say is that the majority are responsible employees who do not want to inconvenience the people of Hong Kong.”

Cathay Flight Attendants’ Union general secretary T K Lee tells ATI,'s premium sister news source, that the union is opposed to the co-payment scheme because “we see it as a downgrade of the existing scheme”.

He says having higher caps on medical consultations “is not a useful benefit because most of our members have never exceeded their limits”.

“In 2007 only 10 of our members exceeded the HK$5,500 cap on medical consultations and lab tests,” says Lee, whose union represents about 4,900 Cathay flight attendants.

Lee declined to comment when asked whether the union might take strike action if talks with the airline fail.

“We have sent a letter to management asking for a meeting” and “at the moment we are concentrating on the demonstration” which is to be held on 10 December at Pacific Place where Cathay has offices, he adds.