They're calling it the "white terror".
Employees at Hong Kong-based companies, most notably the airline Cathay Pacific, are being fired or otherwise dismissed for supporting the anti-extradition bill (now pro-democracy) protests. On Friday the head of Cathay's Flight Attendants’ Association said she was fired, without explanation, after managers saw what was apparently a pro-democracy Facebook post (the company later clarified that her firing had nothing to do with her role as a union leader).
According to Reuters, workers in other sectors, particularly in the financial industry, have said they are afraid to even talk about the protests among colleagues or in group chats for fear that they might be snitched out to management.
"Now the best way is to keep silent, because people could back-stab you for no obvious benefits," said one individual who said he was reported to management. Reuters found one case where an individual received a call from Chinese authorities after posting pro-protest comments on Facebook.
One Hong Kong-based executive compared the current atmosphere to "the Cultural Revolution."
"It feels like we’re back to the era of Cultural Revolution," said the executive of a large corporate, referring to the decade-long campaign unleashed by Mao Zedong on China in 1966, which encouraged people to inform on friends, colleagues and family members who did not follow the Communist Party line.
One pro-Beijing lawmaker in HK said in Hong Kong, politics and business are inseparable.
"The Cathay incident shows that when doing business in Hong Kong, politics and business are inseparable...it’s quite an alarming message," said a senior pro-Beijing politician.
Speaking about the resignation of former Cathay Pacific CEO Rupert Hogg, one activist investor questioned whether every CEO of every HK-traded company should resign, according to Bloomberg.
"This is the most appalling kowtow to Peking," David Webb, a Hong Kong activist investor, wrote on his blog just hours after Chinese state broadcaster, CCTV, broke the news of Hogg’s departure on Aug. 16. "Every substantial employer in Hong Kong, in both the public and private sectors, has employees who have participated in marches that have frequently gone beyond their approved spatial or time limits. Should all the CEOs resign?"
By kowtowing to the CPC, some worry the airline risks becoming a symbol of subservience to Beijing.
Chinese officials called for some Cathay workers who had publicly supported pro-democracy protesters to be banned from flying into and over China and asked for the names of all Cathay workers whose jobs take them through Chinese airspace. China also demanded that Cathay draw up a new plan to improve flight safety and security measures. And, in case that pressure wasn’t intense enough, some big state-owned businesses including China Citic Bank International Ltd. and China Huarong International Holdings Ltd. advised employees not to book Cathay flights.
Ironically, unions in the semi-autonomous city are pleading with the Communist Party to stop pressuring management to employees who support, or have even dared to discuss, the protests. Hong Kong's Confederation of Trade Unions held a press conference on Friday.
The confederation said 14 people have been fired so far over the protests, something it called a "blatant act of suppression." Meanwhile, Cathay said the firing of Rebecca Sy, the union leader who was fired earlier this week allegedly for posting pro-democracy messages, had nothing to do with her role in the union.