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Cathay Pacific firings: companies must not follow airline’s example

October 28, 2021 GMT

Ever since the government started adopting measures to boost the vaccination rate, large corporations have followed suit and imposed compulsory vaccination requirements on their staff. These include Cathay Pacific, which has sacked some employees who failed to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Research has shown the two vaccines available in Hong Kong, namely BioNTech and Sinovac, involve side effects ranging from fever and diarrhoea to more serious ones like smell impairment and inflammation of the heart muscle. Although severe side effects are less common, people should have the right to choose whether they want to bear those risks. It is unethical for a company to sack employees who don’t want to take those risks.

Cathay had told staff in June to get vaccinated by August 31 or show medical proof of exemption. It went on to sack employees who had submitted doctor’s reports.

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The government should note this, having extended a lifeline of HK$27.3 billion (US$5 billion) to Cathay last year. The Labour Department should offer former Cathay staff help in finding new jobs. The department should also make it clear that workers should not be sacked for being unsuitable for inoculation so as to discourage companies from adopting Cathay’s stance, especially when the inoculation rate among the city’s working population is reaching a satisfactory level.

Moreover, the Equal Opportunities Commission has warned that Cathay may have violated the Disability Discrimination Ordinance. Legal action against Cathay could deter other companies from following suit.

Given the harm to the company’s reputation, its management should reconsider its policy. Stakeholder theory holds that a company should be responsible to all its stakeholders, and employees are undeniably a very important group whose opinions should be taken into consideration.

This is also a good chance for other corporations to reflect on whether they should adopt such a hardline approach. Giving employees the freedom of choice could increase their loyalty to the company. Although the aviation sector has borne the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic, this should not be an excuse for sacking employees.

Isaac Lee, Yau Yat Chuen

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Hongkongers love to be trendy, whether it’s electronic products, fashion or food. In recent years, environmental issues such as vegetarianism and plastic-free shopping have also become fashionable. But trends come and go, as internet search data shows. The question is how much enthusiasm we can muster for important issues after the trend fades.

For example, Hong Kong is one of the world’s most light-polluted cities. Yet Hong Kong internet searches for “light pollution” have steadily fallen after reaching a peak around 2011. The government commissioned a consultancy study in 2009 and a voluntary charter was launched in 2016, but these have had a limited effect on light pollution.

And while we were supposed to learn from the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear disasters, search data suggests that we forget these lessons gradually. In Hong Kong and worldwide, there was a spike in searches related to nuclear pollution when the Fukushima accident happened in 2011, but they have been falling over the past 10 years. Yet nuclear and renewable sources still make up a significant part of Hong Kong’s electricity supply, at 28 per cent last year.

Global warming has posed a great threat to humanity for decades, yet people appear to be growing numb to the long-standing problem. The topic of climate change has declined in popularity worldwide since the search term peaked in 2007. Yet global warming has not slowed down and is getting worse. This year, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sounded a red alert, warning that governments must cut carbon emissions quickly to have a chance of keeping the temperature increase below the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

While search data does not fully reflect public opinion, the hope is that public attention can return fully to environmental protection so that instead of being a passing trend, it can be a constant effort.

Wa Ka Cheong, North Point

A lot of concern has been expressed about the “ageing population” yet there seems to be little said on how best to maximise its potential. A retirement age does not help those experienced, still-energetic and eager professionals and workers satisfy their desire to continue to contribute to society.

Even though they have to accept that they will eventually make room for younger people, the feeling that they could have carried on for a few more years is evident. They have not quite reached their best-before date, and they have definitely not yet expired.

So how can these experienced people be of service to society? Can the government offer some avenue to those still able, happy and willing to continue to serve society as advisers or auxiliary staff in emergencies?

It would be a great loss to society if retirees with plenty of time left are allowed to expire when they are still ready for use.

James A. Elms, Mid-Levels

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.