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Wednesday, January 6, 1999 Published at 17:11 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Smile strike for Cathay staff

Smiles don't come for free say Cathay cabin staff

By Jill McGivering in Hong Kong

Flight attendants at the Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific are threatening an unusual form of industrial action - they plan to stop smiling at passengers.

The move is a protest against the airline's plans to introduce new conditions because of the difficult economic climate

The flight attendants' union is looking for new ways of increasing pressure on the airline's management because several months of negotiation have failed to reached agreement.

On Tuesday, some flight attendants began to wear protest badges on their uniforms.

Service without a smile

Now, union leaders say attendants could begin a campaign to stop smiling at passengers for one hour each flight as a sign of their discontent.

For the airline that promises "service straight from the heart", it means angry flight attendants may soon be delivering it with a scowl.

The union's chairman told the BBC the action would be a way of expressing their feelings without resorting to strike action.

She added there was nothing in their contracts requiring them to smile at passengers.

Economic downturn

Cathay Pacific has presented its staff with three options: either they work an extra four hours a month in return for a three and a half per cent pay rise, accept a pay freeze, or take voluntary redundancy.

A spokesman for the airline said the passengers were innocent in the issue and she hoped the staff would be more sensible than to take industrial action. In the present economic climate, she added, the airline had no choice but to look at ways of managing costs.

The decline in tourism in the last 18 months and the economic crisis across the region has taken its toll on Cathay.

In the first six months of last year the company registered a loss for the first time in 35 years. Labour disputes have also become increasingly common in Hong Kong in the past year.

Many local companies have lowered wages or cut staff as a way of surviving the severe economic recession.

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