Sexual harassment in the sky: Hong Kong flight attendants fight back

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In this photo taken on September 19, 2018, Dora Lai, Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Union leader and a cabin manager, poses during an interview with AFP in Hong Kong. (AFP)
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This photo taken on October 3, 2018 shows Hong Kong-based flight attendant Venus Fung, who works for a European airline, posing during an interview with AFP in Hong Kong. (AFP)
Updated 10 December 2018
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Sexual harassment in the sky: Hong Kong flight attendants fight back

  • The complaints from attendants like Fung come as demands for change grow worldwide

HONG KONG: Immaculate-looking flight attendants who appear unruffled by the demands of a life spent in the air are part of the slick image sold by carriers — but Hong Kong-based workers are increasingly hitting back against sexual harassment.
Female cabin crew told AFP of how they had been harassed not only by passengers but also by colleagues.
While they say carriers have made some steps in the right direction, they argue airlines still lag far behind in the #MeToo era.
Venus Fung, whose experiences drove her to join and lead the Cabin Attendants Union of Hong Kong, says airlines must teach workers on how to deal with harassment.
Fung, 29, said the issue was never raised in her company training.
The Hong Kong-based attendant told AFP she had been physically picked up by a pilot who touched her chest, waist and bottom, commenting she had a nice body, when she was new to the job more than two years ago.
“At that moment I was really angry, but I was mostly also panicking and afraid. My mind went completely blank — I had no idea what to do or how to react,” said Fung, who works for a European airline which she did not want to identify for fear of recrimination.
The cabin manager who witnessed the incident did not intervene, Fung added, instead threatening to report her for wearing a skirt that was “too tight.”
As a result Fung stopped wearing skirts at work for more than a year, opting for trousers instead.
She has since been training colleagues on how to report sexual harassment and seek help, but said long-term cultural changes are needed.
“When a flight attendant comes out it looks very fancy with the uniform, heels and makeup. There are fantasies around this industry and it’s hard to change public perception but it absolutely cannot be an excuse for bad behavior,” Fung said, calling for an awareness-raising campaign.
“Education is key to changing people’s attitudes. It’s difficult to carry out overnight, it takes time, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do these things.”
The airline did not respond to requests by AFP for comment.

The complaints from attendants like Fung come as demands for change grow worldwide.
The US-based Association of Flight Attendants last year called on American airlines to “renounce the past objectification of flight attendants.”
Vietnamese budget carrier VietJet, which has staffed some of its inaugural flights with bikini-clad attendants and publishes a calendar featuring scantily-dressed models posing on planes, has sparked criticism for its marketing ploys.
Owned by Vietnam’s only female billionaire, the airline had to apologize for sending lingerie models to join the country’s under-23 football squad on a flight home in January after a social media outcry.
Some airline staff in Hong Kong told AFP the perceived glamor attracted many women to the job — there are popular makeup tutorials on YouTube by flight attendants from Dubai-based airline Emirates on how to achieve their look.
But others say some of the industry’s grooming standards are outdated.
Staff at Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific must wear eyeshadow, lipstick and nail polish in specifically approved shades and check it at regular intervals, according to an official handbook.
Male staff are also under scrutiny — banned from wearing make-up but told they must “maintain a clear complexion at all times.”
Cathay’s cabin crew representatives say they will push to make nail polish optional in talks with the company next year.
The airline announced in March it would introduce a trouser option for female attendants, ending a 70-year skirt rule.
But Dora Lai, Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Union leader and a cabin manager, said that while the move was a step toward gender equality, it would do little to end sexual harassment without a shift in public and staff awareness.
Lai said many airline advertisements deployed beautiful women to sell the industry’s “sex appeal,” rather than the practical skills of the job.
“We are there to provide a service and to bring our passengers safely from point A to point B,” she said.

Despite Cathay launching an online course with a special section on sexual harassment for Hong Kong cabin staff in March, the union says some in-flight managers continue to distrust staff who report cases.
A Cathay attendant who did not want to be identified told AFP her in-flight manager had been reluctant to warn a passenger who had patted her head and back repeatedly, which she described as “humiliating.”
“I felt angry and sad. I was the concerned party, not just relaying the incident... And after telling him, the supervisor was still not supportive,” she said.
Cathay Pacific told AFP it provided training to all staff on the “prevention and elimination of discrimination and harassment in the workplace.”
But attendant Michelle Choi said the company needed to go further to support staff in taking immediate action, from giving warnings to asking passengers to apologize, or in some cases reporting to police.
“We want flight attendants to know what they can do instead of feeling embarrassed about reporting the case, and in the end making excuses to tolerate these acts as many used to do before,” she said.


World’s 26 richest own same as poorest half of humanity: Oxfam

People are seen in a congress center ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 20, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 14 min 3 sec ago
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World’s 26 richest own same as poorest half of humanity: Oxfam

  • Oxfam warned that governments were exacerbating inequality by increasingly underfunding public services like health care and education at the same time as they consistently under-tax the wealthy

DAVOS, Switzerland: The world’s 26 richest people own the same wealth as the poorest half of humanity, Oxfam said Monday, urging governments to hike taxes on the wealthy to fight soaring inequality.
A new report from the charity, published ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, also found that billionaires around the world saw their combined fortunes grow by $2.5 billion each day in 2018.
The world’s richest man, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, saw his fortune increase to $112 billion last year, Oxfam said, pointing out that just one percent of his wealth was the equivalent to the entire health budget of Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people.
The 3.8 billion people at the bottom of the scale meanwhile saw their wealth decline by 11 percent last year, Oxfam said, stressing that the growing gap between rich and poor was undermining the fight against poverty, damaging economies and fueling public anger.
“People across the globe are angry and frustrated,” warned Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima in a statement.
The numbers are stark: Between 1980 and 2016, the poorest half of humanity pocketed just 12 cents on each dollar of global income growth, compared with the 27 cents captured by the top one percent, the report found.

Oxfam warned that governments were exacerbating inequality by increasingly underfunding public services like health care and education at the same time as they consistently under-tax the wealthy.
Calls for hiking rates on the wealthy have multiplied amid growing popular outrage in a number of countries over swelling inequality.
In the United States, new congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines earlier this month by proposing to tax the ultra-rich up to 70 percent.
The self-described Democratic Socialist’s proposal came after President Donald Trump’s sweeping tax reforms cut the top rate last year from 39.6 percent to 37 percent.
And in Europe, the “yellow vest” movement that has been rocking France with anti-government protests since November is demanding that President Emmanuel Macron repeal controversial cuts to wealth taxes on high earners.
“The super-rich and corporations are paying lower rates of tax than they have in decades,” the Oxfam report said, pointing out that “the human costs — children without teachers, clinics without medicines — are huge.”
“Piecemeal private services punish poor people and privilege elites,” it said, stressing that every day, some 10,000 people die due to lacking access to affordable health care.
The report, released as the world’s rich, famous and influential began arriving for the plush annual gathering at the luxury Swiss ski resort town, urged governments to “stop the race to the bottom” in taxing rich individuals and big corporations.
Oxfam found that asking the richest to pay just 0.5 percent extra tax on their wealth “could raise more money than it would cost to educate all 262 million children out of school and provide health care that would save the lives of 3.3 million people.”