Exploited workers protest too much

I really was determined not to mention the South China Morning Post’s excruciating ‘Moving Forward’ epic year-long series of interviews of rich old people saying the young are crap. But today’s is irresistible. Manufacturer and Beijing-fan Eddy Li comes up with the usual blather about how the kids should quit whining and grab opportunities and (without a hint of irony) how the government should build up and promote luxury brands (he owns Mainland watch factories).


SCMP-EddyLi2The exciting bit: the SCMP photographs him posing before a large framed picture, showing several hundred figures in rows attending a gaudy fantasy 1997 handover. All the most upstanding members of society have a copy of this painting – a fact I can prove by snapping the newspaper in front of the one we just happen to have here.

It is one of the most tawdry and putrid excuses for an artwork that I have ever seen. One curious thing about it is that all the heads of the Important Patriotic People (painted from photos) are pretty much the same size, so there’s something jarring about distance and depth in the composition. As a special treat sometime, I will photograph it in detail and highlight the best bits. Inevitably, a few of the tycoons, officials and shoe-shiners have since fallen from grace in some way or other.

Big news of the day is on the labour front.


Civil servants’ unions do their annual ritual of mouth-frothing and freaking out over their SCMP-UnionsSeetheunacceptable pay increases. The 3-4% hikes seem unremarkable. Bear in mind that these people are also on a pay scale that goes up with length of service (independently of promotions), so this is a hike upon a hike. The 3-4% is supposedly based on private-sector adjustments, and you are supposed to think ‘fair enough’ – the two should be linked, right?

But actually that’s a distraction from the true picture, which is that when you include pensions and other perks, civil servants’ remuneration can be two or even three times the private-sector equivalent. If I were them I would seriously shut up about ‘bad morale’ and all the other baloney.

Then we have the latest complaints from Cathay Pacific cabin crew. Like cuddly furry animals and nurses and trans-gender teens who take their grandmothers to the senior prom, CX flight attendants are supposed to make us feel all warm and fuzzy because of their caring and hospitable nature and beauty-and-brains and ‘service from the heart’, etc. So when we hear that their evil employers are cutting their lunch allowance in Melbourne, our natural inclination is to be outraged at this terrible exploitation, injustice and cruelty.

The lunch allowance was cut from A$60 to A$35 and back to A$55, and is apparently in line with prices on the hotel menu. So we’re talking HK$250-300 for lunch, which doesn’t seem bad.

However, the last time I checked, what really happens with these allowances is this. The crew buy instant noodles before leaving Hong Kong (of course, they would never swipe the cup noodles from the galley because that’s company property). They prepare these delights in the hotel rooms and lustily devour them instead of going down to the coffee shop to eat. They pocket the cash, which the Hong Kong tax authorities never hear about, because it was a meal allowance, obviously. The net result, after doing this every time you overnight in an outport, is a nice tax-free 20% or more on top of your official monthly salary.

Forget the glamorous smiles and ‘Tea sir? Coffee sir?’ stuff – they’re evil and cunning, or you may think, sensible. The point is: as with the civil servants, it would probably be best for them to keep quiet about this. (Interestingly, the other thing the HK Civil Service and CX have in common apart from whiny employees who are never happy is a large surplus of applicants lining up to get jobs with them.)


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21 Responses to Exploited workers protest too much

  1. Stephen says:

    I try to have nothing to do with Swire. Sometimes it’s hard, but not flying with them (on the back of the plane) for 25% more than other carriers charge is easy. When I was naive and younger I did, still on the back of the plane, and their service was shite. However I don’t blame the cabin staff it’s the arrogant Swire management that probably make their life hell. From their ageist, sexist attitudes to their fantasist make believe hotel restaurant prices are actually getting cheaper – Where ? Go Girls.

  2. Big Al says:

    The whole point of Asian airlines is that they offer the tired traveller eye candy in the form of air hostesses/stewardesses/flight attendants/whatever they call themselves this week who are young and attractive. Unlike the old sows working on European and North American airlines, who wouldn’t get a job handling baggage for an Asian airline. Now CX and KA cabin staff want to retire at, what, 60? That really isn’t going to fly with passengers/customers/guests/whatever we’re called this week.
    Anyone for tea? Anyone fuck-offy?

  3. Scotty Dotty says:

    I support the CX crew!

    Fair dinkum, CX is a notch above the rest, so nickle-and-diming their crew seems poor form. Bet every poster here (except Joe, who probably flies Aeroflot or Malaysian) would prefer Cathay over the old hags and surly entitlement gits from BA or QF or AF or KLM or etc. Night-and-day, surely? CX also better whether you turn right or left when you get on the plane.

    Possibly on the crew’s mind? Cathay morphing into a subsidiary of Air China – years still to go, but time to ink in their red lines before it’s too late?

  4. nulle says:

    would avoid CX like the plague, there are plenty of better Asian airlines out there like SG, or OZ. Yeah, some of the likes at UA are older, but even North American airlines have great professional FAs…at least these airlines have real pilots (unlike fake pilots at PRC Chinese airlines.)

  5. gweiloeye says:

    reminds me an very old joke: air stewardess comes over and says “excuse me sir would like some TWA coffee or some TWA Tea”.

    sorry. i don’t remember TWA either.

    anyway only prob i have with CX is the crap movies. QF and NZ are full of rude old hags. dont ask for that third glass of wine.. sheesh.

  6. NIMBY says:

    Flew Delta the USA to attend a funeral (seems to happen more and more frequently, is it me or is life wearing thin all around this planet?). This, after swearing off their service 14 years ago. CX wanted to skin me alive just to dump me in LAX of SFO, try booking connecting flights on their site. Delta was not only cheaper, but I was surprised how much those old women had mellowed — the service this time was excellent.

  7. LRE says:

    Anyone who gets 18K+ for unskilled waitressing should really just keep it quiet. Waiters in cha chan tengs are more skilled and paid far less with no free trips and accommodation and hotel lunches.

    And as for “civil” servants — never met who lived up to either part of the name. We should rename them “rude impediments” and adjust their pay accordingly. I believe they take up 75%+ of government spending, so rather than pay rises, perhaps a cut or two might be in order if the government is having to investigate sales taxes and other alternative revenue sources.

  8. mjrelje says:

    Big Al: to most pilots and crew, we (passengers) are commonly referred to as ‘self-loading cargo’!
    CX has already morphed into a PRC carrier rammed full of mainlanders with PRC cabin crew and meals that have come straight out of a Shenzhen outsourced kitchen. Yuk.

  9. Grande Poobah says:

    Love reading Hemlock – definitely not loving the old skool sexism in the comments. Come on boys, surely you can keep it a little more civilized than that?

  10. Maugrim says:

    What Hemlock describes with regards to allowance hoarding/noodle slurping/room hermits, is true. Some eschew crew drinks and even tipping in places such as the U.S., where it’s customary for services such as having bags carried etc. CX regulars a few years ago began to refer to it as “Mongkok Airways” owing to the prevalence of MK ‘Kong Nui’ types that were employed at the time. Personally, CX FAs are the least of their problems, their catering has become a joke. The ladies are in general far better than the harpies on BA or QF.

  11. Cassowary says:

    I’ve seen that painting before; they have one hanging up in the hotel lobby at Parkview. It is very creepy. What do you call it when something looks exactly like satirical kitschy pop art but is in fact completely serious?

    Also, ever notice how these ageing businessmen never spell out exactly where all these wonderful opportunities young people are supposed to be grasping are? I suppose even they have the sense not to say things like, “There’s plenty of jobs flogging LV handbags to rich tourists!” or, “You could always sell insurance for AIA!” But Hemlock has provided the answer. All the young people should be lining up to work for the civil service and Cathay Pacific.

  12. probably says:

    Agree with LRE here about so called ‘civil servants’. Historically they were meant to receive moderate salaries which were compensated by secure jobs and pensions (unlike the private sector). This now appears to have been turned on its head the world over.

    HK has the same disease with bureaucracy as Europe has had for a number of years insofar as no government departments are willing to publish a break down of their xxx millions of taxpayer’s money spent on such and such public services into a column differentiating civil service salaries and pensions versus the money reaching the needy population.

    Let’s all go and read up on “Parkinson’s Law” now.

  13. NIMBY says:

    Now falling off a Bar Stool in Wanchai, surviving VD, being given a mickey and rolled for your wallet, etc; all those experiences you might brag about don’t count as skills. ;-P

    If they are still flying into Japan, the USA or Europe, then those Stewards & Stewardess are hardly unskilled. They have to pass a pretty rigorous written and practical license exam, and sit retraining and re-examination. This is one reason why hiring strike busters isn’t an easy option, getting new staff licensed can take up to 4 months, a pretty hefty cost. BTW, have you seen what they pay real waiters these days, it isn’t that far off.

  14. Red Dragon says:

    Who the hell is “Eddy” Li? I’ve never heard of him.

    Having just read his comments and seen his mug in front of that awful picture, however, I suddenly feel quite ill and will have to take to my bed.

    Must you really dredge these non-entities up from the bottom of the cess-pit, Hemmers, old bean? I imagine that most of your readers manage quite successfully to insulate ourselves from the likes of “Eddy”, whose existence few of us would have known about had you not brought it to light.

    Spare us any more of this, I beg you.

  15. Joe Blow says:

    @Snotty Dotty “… Bet every poster here (except Joe, who probably flies Aeroflot or Malaysian) would prefer…”

    I resemble that remark.

    In the 1980s I used to fly CAAC inside China. Now that was an adventure worthy of Biggles or Tin Tin: broken chairs discarded in corners, toilets that were disinfected with DDT and in-flight service consisting of a single wrapped biscuit.

    And apart from the occasional crash, Malaysian is no worse than CX. At least their trolley dollies don’t have that “CX attitude” (I am fabulous and I am only doing this shitty job to meet an investment banker).

  16. PD says:

    Joe, I believe George Adams was also flying within China in the 1980s — did you ever happen to bump into him?

  17. Joe Blow says:

    @PD: No. Thank goodness.

    The only time I saw Adams close up was at last year’s protest march (1st July ?) when he rode around on his mini-bike and urged people to “come and join us !”. He didn’t see me because I was strategically hidden behind a democracy banner.

  18. LRE says:

    Looking at the successful candidates, I don’t doubt some of them required extensive training and exams before being able to push trolleys, operate a microwave, hand out and collect TV dinner trays or point at doors and chairs. But you’ll not convince me that any of these constitutes an actual skill, any more than falling off stools, being mugged or getting the clap do, even if they get qualifications in it.
    See also: MBA degree.

    And the going rate for an seasoned cha chan teng waiter is about $12k So I’d definitely say that the entry-level $18k for Cathay Pathetic crew (before perks, lunch allowances, accommodation etc are factored in) is a long way off.

  19. NIMBY says:


    Tell you what, I’ll talk to some friends at CX. I suspect I can book 10 minute time slot out at the training center, which is more than enough time to wash you out. That is if you don’t suffer a cardiac attack from the effort of getting dressed in the change room.

  20. As I’m sure some of those making comments here know, the real reason the cabin crew are there is to handle emergencies – all the waitressing is just to keep them busy while they’re waiting for something to go wrong. Unlike the average waiter in a restaurant, they are fully trained in CPR, first aid and other relevant skills.

    That said, my wife and I usually fly Cathay to Europe each year. This year, we decided to try Lufthansa for a change. Going there we sat at the back of the plane. By the time the trolley reached us, only one of the two meal choices was left. We learned our lesson and booked a seat in the middle going back, only for them to start serving at the back, with the same result! What offended us most was that the second time they just handed us the remaining meal with no attempt at apology or explanation – take it or leave it. When this happens on CX, they do at least usually offer an apology and a smile.

  21. Chinese Netizen says:

    Vee are Germans! Vee ver only following ordahs!!

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