TAIPEI (CNA) — On June 4, more than 300 EVA Air flight attendants and representatives of various labor unions took to the streets of Taipei in protest against what they called exploitation by the carrier and demanding a fairer share of the benefits that airline management enjoys.
“EVA flight attendants want dignity,” “Taiwan workers, go for it!” the protesters chanted in front of Evergreen International Corp., the parent company of EVA.
The protesters called for better pay, fewer work hours and a bigger role for the unions in corporate governance.
Cheng Ya-ling (鄭雅菱), secretary-general the Taoyuan Flight Attendants Union (TFAU) that organized the protest, said one of the objectives of the rally was to empower workers in Taiwan and encourage them to more actively engage in negotiations with management for more reasonable treatment.
Another flight attendant Kuo Chi-yen (郭芷嫣), director of EVA Air Corporate Union, said the objectives are of particular importance to workers at EVA, where the union is not that strong.
“Our union was established just three years ago, right after the China Airlines (CAL) flight attendants strike in 2016,” Kuo told CNA.
Three months after the CAL strike, 2,000 EVA flight attendants joined the TFAU, hoping to have their voice heard too, she said.
The TFAU currently has 3,200 EVA members, about 80 percent of the airline’s flight attendant staff, Kuo said, adding that she hoped the other 20 percent would join the union.
After the rally in front the Evergreen building, the protesters marched to the Presidential Office and then to the Chang Yung-fa (張榮發) Foundation at around 4 p.m. Chang is the late founder of the Evergreen Group.
Waiting for them there were three other EVA flight attendants, who had been on a vigil since 4 a.m. Tuesday to highlight what they said were the unreasonable 12-hour shifts they often have to work.
Negotiations between EVA and the TFAU have made little progress since May 13, when it was decided that a vote will be held over a one-month period to decide whether the airline’s flight attendants should go on a strike.
The bone of contention has been a “no free ride” proposal, put forth by the union to allow only its members to be paid the higher hourly allowances for overseas flights, which means non-members would not be eligible.
The airline has argued that such an offer would jeopardize its flight safety and quality of service.
Kuo said, however, that the union remains firm on that position and she accused the company of trying to cause rifts among its flight attendants and weaken the union.
Commenting on Tuesday’s protest, EVA said it has made many compromises in response to the union’s demands, but the union has been acting in bad faith, distorting the airline’s message and misleading the public.
EVA said it already has better employee benefits than most other airlines, and it is flexible on the demand for reduced work hours on some of the routes that the crews consider “overwork flights.”
The carrier said it is willing to start with a trial period on Flight BR198/197 on the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport-Tokyo Narita route, allowing flight attendants to work only one way and rest overnight, rather than working on a round-trip flight on the same day.
“There are almost no carriers with such arrangements for that route,” EVA said.
The airline said it is still extending an olive branch by offering the same arrangement on flights BR716/715 on the Taoyuan-Beijing route in stormy weather and whenever runways at the Beijing airport are under annual maintenance.
Regarding its flight attendant’s complaints that they often have to work shifts of more than 12 hours in contravention of the Labor Standards Act, EVA said that occurs on 0.1 percent to 0.3 percent of all its flights per year.
Among the routes cited by the union where flight attendants work more than 12 hours are those between Taiwan and Tokyo, Beijing, Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City, Harbin, Shenyang, and Hohhot.
EVA called for understanding on the part of its flight attendants, saying it is concerned about increasing costs in a year when the prospects for the aviation market are not good.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently slashed its profit forecast for the aviation industry by 21 percent, EVA said, adding that its bookings are down due to the labor issues.
It remains uncertain whether the airline and union will hold another round of talks before the voting period ends on June 6.
The union has said a strike will require the backing of 80 percent of the EVA Air Corporate Union members and more than 50 percent of the TFAU’s 5,930 members, who work for EVA, CAL and other smaller carriers.
By Lee Hsin-Yin