As the red curtain continues to descend upon Cathay Pacific, employees have been warned to “exercise caution” concerning their social media use. The undertone is clear: any dissent will be punished swiftly and harshly. But just what crosses the line?
On August 9th, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) imposed strict new conditions on Cathay Pacific concerning the behavior of its employees, including social media use. The rules centered on employee engagement in “illegal” activity. Transmitting those “rules” to employees, Cathay Pacific advised:
Employees should always exercise caution about how their social media usage may be relevant to their own employment, the welfare of others and the business. Any employee who participates in illegal activities will be subject to an investigation process which may lead to termination of their employment
New CEO Augustus Tang added:
Employees should reflect on and examine their own behavior in relation to these points, exercise sound judgment and avoid putting themselves in a position where they could reasonably be questioned for being in breach of these conditions of the notice.
But Cathay Pacific fails to address one critical matter: what activity is illegal?
Danny Lee of the South China Morning Post posed this question directly to Cathay Pacific, which was unable to answer, calling it a “complex issue with no guidelines explaining the criteria.”
Is Cathay Pacific too afraid to ask the CAAC in Beijing for clarification?
How is an employee supposed to know what crosses the line? Is protest illegal? Expressing solidarity with protestors? Voicing preference for universal suffrage or greater autonomy from Beijing?
From the perspective of the CAAC, vagueness is a strategy. Use fear and intimidation of job loss and other repercussions to shut employees up. If they don’t know what crosses the line, they will be less likely to dance on that line.
But while Beijing’s strategy may clear, Cathay Pacific has a duty to clarify this for employees.
Cathay Pacific even warned employees not to speak about protests among themselves:
What might be assumed to be a private conversation among friends often travels further than one had intended.
It’s clear Cathay Pacific is living in fear right now. And it would be disingenuous to say that is not at least understandable, considering the geopolitics and that half of Cathay Pacific’s revenue comes from Mainland flights.
But that does not excuse opaque threats made by Cathay Pacific to their employees over social media use. As a starting point for negotiation, employees deserve a clear explanation of what is deemed acceptable and what is not.
image: Cathay Pacific