Transportation minister to discuss looming strike with EVA, CAL

China Airlines (CAL) and EVA Air pilots in the Pilots Union Taoyuan voted overwhelmingly on Aug. 7 in favor of a strike over work conditions and had planned to announce a decision on Aug. 20 but postponed that statement as they agreed to sit down at the negotiation table again.

Taipei, July 27 (CNA)-Transportation Minister Wu Hong-mo (吳宏謀) said Friday he will meet with China Airlines (CAL) and EVA Airways next week to discuss the growing threat of a pilot walkout as an ongoing strike vote has already met the threshold for a valid vote.

Wu said he will review the issue with the two airlines and Labor Minister Hsu Ming-chun (許銘春), who is currently traveling overseas. “We will ask the airlines how they have been responding to the union’s demands and try to help minimize the impact (should a strike  take place),” Wu said.

As of Friday, more than half of the members of the Pilots Union Taoyuan had voted on whether they want to go on strike in the wake of unsuccessful negotiations on working conditions with the country’s two main airlines.

The vote is being held between July 16 and Aug. 6. The union represents about 800, or 70 percent, of CAL’s pilots and 500, or 50 percent, of EVA Air’s pilots, and more than half of the members from each airline have cast ballots, according to the union’s executive director, Chen Hsiang-lin (陳祥麟), himself a pilot at China Airlines.

Under Taiwan’s labor laws, unions have the legal right to call a strike if 50 percent of their eligible members vote on the proposal and the majority votes in favor of it.

It means that the threshold for total votes cast has already been met, if Chen’s figures are accurate, bringing CAL and EVA Air pilots one step closer to a strike, either together or separately.

Chen said that while the high number of votes cast so far did not necessarily mean that union members were voting in favor of a strike, it was quite likely they were.

He said the union will release the result of the vote on Aug. 6 as planned, and it is currently encouraging more members to vote to show their determination to fight for better working conditions.

“We are simply working hard to get the bargaining chips we need. Going on strike has never been our goal,” Chen told CNA.

But the airlines have not shown the union any additional goodwill since the pilots started to vote, Chen said.

The union director said he hoped the airlines will be more willing to talk before the vote ends. He warned, however, that if the worst-case scenario happens, and pilots decide to go on strike in the absence of any better offers from management, the union will go ahead with the strike’s logistics, such as when to give advance notice and how long it should be.

Wu said a reasonable advance notice would be at least 14 days before a strike to minimize the impact on the traveling public during the peak summer travel season.

According to the Civil Aviation Administration, it is customary in other countries for airline unions to give seven to 10 days’ notice of a strike so management can make contingency plans.

At the heart of the dispute between the pilots and the carriers is the two airlines’ management style, the pilots’ time off and how days off are defined.

For instance, pilots at EVA Air are given 123 days off a year, but Chen contended that scheduling issues and the airline’s tight definition of the term mean that pilots in some cases get as few as 90 days off a year.