Flight attendants protest against overwork amid inconsistent laws

Taipei, Nov. 6 (CNA)- Dozens of flight attendants protested Tuesday against overwork and accused Taiwan’s aviation regulator, the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), of colluding with local airlines to deprive them of their labor rights.

The protesters outside the CAA, mostly members of the Taoyuan Flight Attendants Union (TFAU) and the EVA Air and China Airlines corporate unions, urged the agency not to draft a separate act for the aviation industry to legalize what they see as overwork.

“The CAA should also ask EVA Air to adjust its current flight rotations, particularly those to Tokyo, Beijing and Phnom Penh, as work hours on those round-trip flights can easily exceed 12 hours,” said Liao Yi-chin (廖以勤), director of the EVA Air Corporate Union.

The flight attendants are asking to fly to the three destinations on a one-way basis each time to avoid the possibility of overwork, which would mean crews on outbound flights could stay overnight at the foreign destination and work on an inbound flight the next day.

The protest came after Taoyuan labor authorities fined EVA Air NT$550,000 (US$17,800) last week for having its attendants work longer hours than allowed by law for the fifth time in three years.

The CAA backed the airline, however, saying the excessive working hours were due to an unexpected air traffic control event.

The controversial case for which EVA Air was fined took place on May 31, when four flight attendants on round-trip EVA flights between Taoyuan and Tokyo worked for 12 hours and 1 minute, violating the 12-hour per day limit stipulated by Taoyuan’s Department of Labor.

As with past disputes in Taiwan’s aviation industry, the case once again exposed inconsistencies between the country’s labor laws and flight operation regulations.

Under Taiwan’s Aircraft Flight Operation Regulations (AOR) — which are aligned with global aviation industry standards — a cabin crew may not perform more than 14 hours of work within a 24-hour period on international flights.

Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act stipulates, however, that no worker can work for more than 12 hours per day, even with overtime.

Considering the special nature of aviation industry, the union has agreed to follow Article 84-1 of the Act, which allows workers to arrange their own working hours with their employers after their agreements are submitted to regulatory authorities for approval.

The clause gave the carriers more flexibility in scheduling flight crews, but it has also led to disagreements between management and labor in individual cases, especially on regional routes.

There have not been disputes over practices on transoceanic flights because extra crew are added for hauls of over 14 hours and there is more space and flexibility for flight attendants to rest on flights of under 14 hours.

But such flexibility does not exist on regional flights, which is why the TFAU has insisted that work hours for regional flights should be capped at 12.

After the fine, EVA Air complained that the current restrictions imposed on the AOR has prevented the airline from dealing with the actual conditions in the aviation industry, and it said it hoped to see a separate act that specifically regulates work hours for airline workers.

The CAA also said it will consult the Labor Ministry to come up with a solution as it has been a controversial issue for all parties for a long time.

In response to the protest, the CAA denied the unions’ claim that it intends to establish a new law, stressing that it is only working toward reconciling the Labor Standards Act and the AOR.

EVA Air declined to respond to the unions’ move on Tuesday.