Employers in Hong Kong scramble for the shrinking middle ground

As protests in Hong Kong continue, many global companies are launching contingency plans for their businesses and employees.
By: | August 21, 2019

After three months of protests and disruption, employers in Hong Kong are changing their tune on the political situation there.

In June, many employers gave their staff the option of one day off to participate in demonstrations against a planned extradition law with Mainland China (June 16 demonstration pictured).

But after three months of upheaval, and a significant intervention from the Government of Mainland China, local organisations are much more cautious about being seen as partisan on the issue.

The Big Four auditing firms of PwC, Deloitte, KPMG, and EY, have put out statements to distance themselves from anonymous newspaper ads that claim to have been from their workforces.

And Cathay Pacific is still reeling from the resignation of its CEO Rupert Hogg, the timing of which looks certain to be tied to the protests. The airline fired four staff over protest activity in the days before Hogg’s resignation.

The Employers’ Federation of Hong Kong has not responded to HRM Asia’s enquiries about employers’ changing stances in the Special Administrative Region.

Meanwhile, international employers are considering the number and need for expatriate staff in Hong Kong, with some even going so far as to evacuate key personnel.

International assistance provider Traveller Assist says it has already undertaken an operation to extricate around 180 foreign workers and students from five Hong Kong districts.

“A security evacuation on this scale has a lot of moving parts and no matter how well it is planned, something will always change,” Danny Kaine, head of assistance at Traveller Assist. “A roadblock on the planned route to the airport, a lost passport, a student who was diagnosed with measles – all of which happened on this operation, but we are trained and experienced to deal with the unexpected.”

The protests, which have entered their third month, have disrupted flights at Hong Kong’s airport, leading to cancellations of business meetings, deal discussions and conferences.

French insurer AXA has about 2,000 employees in Hong Kong with security teams regularly monitoring the situation in the city. AXA has told its managers to allow flexible working for employees there, including working remotely from home. Many of Hong Kong’s biggest banks have closed branches during the protects, including Standard Chartered and Citi.