The labor union of China Airlines may enter a six month negotiation with the company’s management, after Taiwan’s Ministry of Labor and Taoyuan City’s Department of Labor intervened to resolve a dispute ostensibly over year-end bonuses.
On January 22, thousands of China Airlines’ employees and labor organizations gathered in front of the company’s Taipei office to complain about a 50% decrease in bonuses despite the company reporting record high revenues. Other concerns, including overtime pay, were also raised.
After the protest, the management suspended five members from China Airlines’ Third Labor Union. The move angered labor organizations and civil groups, which gathered in front of the Taipei office again on January 29 to demand immediate modification of the company’s regulations and decisions.
One of the flight attendants, surnamed Chang, shaved his head to express the “shared anger” by many of China Airlines’ entry level staff. Lin Chia-wei, the Executive Director of Taoyuan City’s Industrial Labor Union, said that China Airlines officials’ response is intentionally aimed at undermining the labor union’s actions, which violates Article 35 of the Labor Union Law. The opposition asked officials from China Airlines to immediately lift suspension on five disciplined members, resume negotiation over the year-end bonus with the labor union, and hold transparent election of labor union representatives.
This incident highlights an often tense relationship between the nation’s flag carrier and its employees. According to credible sources, the labor union affiliated with China Airlines has long been viewed as merely an extension of the company. Most of the past demands filed by employees were quickly settled after a few meetings. Thus, employees decided to form their own labor unions outside of the company’s structure. However, company officials continue to resist the efforts of labor unions. The most recent case happened when labor unions asked the company to add parking spaces for employees, who has had a hard time parking their cars before work.
“We often have to arrive least two hours early in order to get a parking space,” said a China Airlines employee on the condition of anonymity. “However, someone infiltrated the labor union and passed the information onto China Airlines officials. As a result, the company responded by locking down the parking lot for the day to quiet down the situation.”
The series of protests represent not only China Airlines employees’ dissatisfaction over their year-end bonus, but is indicative of their lack of rights in general. Since last September, China Airlines and employees have been at odds. Reportedly, supervisors forcefully removed yellow ribbons worn by some flight attendants to show support for labor rights; even customers wearing yellow ribbons claimed they received more undue attention from China Airlines supervisors throughout a flight. Additionally, even when China Airlines is fined for breaking the labor law for more than NT$2 million dollars, it still can’t have a chilling effect to restrain its oppressive moves.
According to the source, the labor union has to wait until the expiration of the current six month negotiation period before a strike becomes a legal option. It remains to be seen if a resolution will be reached before the period ends.
(Feature photo of a China Airlines 737-800, by Ellery Cheng on Wikicommons, CC BY-SA 3.0)