Flights cancelled as China Airlines pilots strike

Flights cancelled as China Airlines pilots strike
PHOTO: Facebook/China Airlines 中華航空

Taiwan's main air carrier, China Airlines, began cancelling flights on Friday following a strike staged by its pilots, who are demanding better working conditions.

The airline cancelled at least 26 inbound and outbound flights between Friday and Sunday, including those to Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Bangkok and Manila. Passengers were being advised to check the latest flight conditions before going to the airport.

The strike is expected to cause long delays and confusion at airports in Taiwan, as it comes in the midst of the Lunar New Year holiday, the busiest air travel period on the island, when airports handle some 20,000 passengers daily - around 6,000 more than usual.

The transport ministry has set up an emergency task force to deal with the issue and China Airlines said it would not give up holding talks with the union.

The pilots' union, known as Pilots Union Taoyuan, claimed in a statement that China Airlines has refused to address fatigue brought on by its "red-eye" and late-night flights, and that it "had no choice" but to take industrial action until its members are granted more rest time.

The dispute by the union dates back to last year, when the union voted in favour of a strike to address what it described as the airline's failure to look after its pilots' health and welfare.

At that time, the union agreed to suspend the strike for a year to give the airline's management time to improve working conditions. Talks between the airline, union and labour authorities resumed last week, but broke down shortly thereafter.

A statement from the union said the management's response was "highly disappointing" and that the company had refused to hire more pilots, citing a sharp rise in personnel costs that would undermine its competitiveness.

"Pilots are not machines or robots," union leader Lee Hsin-yen said. "They need rest after working for long periods.

"Paying them more will not resolve the issue, and will only increase the risk to passengers if pilots are not given enough time to rest."

Hsieh Shih-chien, the president of China Airlines, said his company had done all it could to try to resolve the dispute, agreeing to adjust the pay and rest time offered to pilots.

Airlines officials said the pilots have one of the best-paid jobs in Taiwan, with a monthly salary of NT$340,000 (S$15,000) and a wealth of other benefits, including an aviation safety bonus and long holidays.

Hsieh said a strike would cause serious inconvenience to passengers, but that the airline would do its best to help them reach their destinations.

The airline was hit by a two-day strike by cabin crew in 2016, which resulted in the cancellation of 122 international flights and costs of US$9 million.

The strike also disrupted the travelling itineraries of more than 30,000 passengers, including close to 5,300 Taiwanese who were stranded overseas.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.

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