More than 160 employees at Hong Kong Airlines (HX, Hong Kong International), most of them crew members, lost their jobs this week as the troubled carrier continued to cut costs. They demanded proper severance pay as reports emerged that only their starting wages would count, the South China Morning Post reported.

The company had previously revealed on February 7 that it would eliminate 400 jobs. On February 19, it told employees that a "recent review of its operational requirements" ensured that many of these dismissals were being accelerated. The outbreak of the Covid-19 coronavirus has intensified the airline's financial woes already compounded by months of civil unrest.

On February 20, company representatives held closed-door sessions with almost 80 of the airline's staff to tell them the details of the lay-offs, effective after a one-month notice period, and their severance packages.

Severance will take into account the employees' base salary only, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions chairwoman Carol Ng told the South China Morning Post. Cabin crew, for example, typically earn up to HKD20,000 Hong Kong dollars (USD2,600) per month including additional pay based on flying hours, but their starting wage is just HKD7,800 (USD1,000), she said.

She added that workers had complained they could no longer access their internal company profiles, which list salary and overtime details.

Hong Kong Airlines also revealed on February 19 that it would jettison inflight meals and amenities such as blankets and pillows as part of its cost-cutting drive.

Hong Kong Airlines is part-owned by cash-strapped Chinese conglomerate HNA Group which, Bloomberg alleged in an article this week, could be taken over by the government of Hainan Province, which would then sell off its airline assets. HNA Group has denied the report.