Pilots union mulls strike during Mid-Autumn Festival

Taipei, The Pilots Union Taoyuan said Tuesday it has not ruled out the possibility of a walkout during the Sept. 22-24 Mid Autumn Festival holiday if an ongoing vote over labor action grants its members the right to strike.

A majority of union members have already cast their ballots on whether to strike as part of a vote being held from July 16-Aug. 6, in the wake of unsuccessful negotiations on working conditions with the country's two main airlines, China Airlines (CAL) and EVA Airways. About 70 percent of CAL pilots and 50 percent of Eva Air pilots belong to the union.

A vote in favor of action is considered highly likely and a pilot walkout could have a significant impact on the country's aviation industry given that a one-day strike by CAL flight attendants two years ago cost the carrier NT$500 million (US$15.38 million) and affected 30,000 passengers.

Union Chairwoman Lee Hsin-yen (???) said the union will go ahead with its plans for strike action in the absence of an improved offer from management once the votes are tallied.

The pilots could go on strike at any time but will give advance notice "of at least three days," said Lee, herself an EVA Air pilot.

Lee said the union is willing to talk with the airlines, but has seen no signs of goodwill from management.

The union also blasted the Ministry of Transportation and Communications for acting passively as "it is only thinking about how to minimize the impact of a strike and deciding how early an advance notice should be given instead of facilitating discussions between the two sides."

Taiwan's labor laws contain no stipulation about advance notice of a strike and Transportation Minister Wu Hong-mo (???) said last week he intends to discuss the issue with Labor Minister Hsu Ming-chun (???).

In response to the union's call, the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) said it will help facilitate meetings between different stakeholders but stressed that the rights of passengers should not be ignored.

The CAA also said that a three-day warning, as suggested by Lee, is insufficient for the airlines to make necessary arrangements.

For instance, it is not enough time to take out a wet lease, in which fellow airlines lease their aircraft and personnel to affected carriers, the CAA said.

CAL also said that it has gradually improved working conditions for pilots since 2015 when they first voted to strike but did not act on the vote.

Individual requests from the union, such as salary raises and guaranteed days off have been met, the carrier said, indicating that the union's decision to bundle 28 issues together and force the company to accept or reject them all is the main reason a consensus has not been reached.

EVA said it hopes to continue to talk with the pilots and will seek mediation from the CAA and Labor ministry officials.

Both Lee and James Liao (???), an EVA pilot, told CNA that the group is also looking forward to more friendly labor-management relations beyond pay issues.

One criticism has been the use of flight data to punish pilots, which Lee and Liao consider unfair because it ignores a multitude of factors beyond their control that can affect performance.

For instance, Liao said, EVA Air records how many hard landings pilots makes and uses it to grade their performance, leading to possible demotions. However, a hard landing, which is when an aircraft hits the ground at greater vertical speed and force than during a normal landing, is sometimes caused by weather conditions or fatigue, they said.

Liao said that although pilots at foreign airlines often earn US$20,000 per month, which is double their salary, he prefers to work for a local carrier.

"I have my family and friends here, so of course I want to work for a Taiwanese airline," he said, explaining that he voted in an effort to improve local working conditions.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel