Strike over: Taiwan's China Airlines and pilots reach deal

Strike over: Taiwan's China Airlines and pilots reach deal
PHOTO: Facebook/China Airlines 中華航空

Striking pilots of China Airlines, Taiwan's biggest carrier, have agreed to return to work immediately, ending seven days of industrial action over working conditions and benefits.

Representatives of the carrier and the Taoyuan Union of Pilots signed an agreement late on Thursday witnessed by the island's transport and labour chiefs and Vice-Premier Chen Chi-mai.

"With the agreement signed ... we can now breathe a sigh of relief as the incident has created inconvenience to many people," Chen said, adding China Airlines and the union should learn to work together.

More than 200 flights, including several dozen to Hong Kong, were cancelled after the union launched the industrial action on February 8, stranding close to 50,000 passengers and inflicting over NT$500 million (S$22 million) in losses on the carrier, officials and industrial sources said.

"The two sides finally reached an agreement to end the strike following four rounds of talks in the past week," deputy labour minister Liu Shih-hao said.

Under the deal, the union agreed not to strike again in the next 3½ years. In return, China Airlines agreed to the union's main demand to increase the number of pilots on various flights to combat fatigue and improve safety.

The carrier will roster three pilots on flights of more than eight hours - up from the present two - and have four pilots on flights over 12 hours, up from three.

It also agreed to meet other union demands on five routes that the pilots felt were particularly draining, according to Liu.

China Airlines president Hsieh Shih-chien said the staffing increases were expected to sharply add to the cost of the company's operations, but the carrier agreed to the terms in the interest of safety.

In addition, the company said it would impose a two-year freeze on hiring foreign pilots except in exceptional circumstances.

China Airlines would retain the right to hire foreign nationals as co-pilots, but would give promotion priority to Taiwanese personnel if they performed as well as their foreign counterparts.

But Liu said this condition would not apply to foreign pilots living in Taiwan because they were protected by the island's immigration law.

He said China Airlines also agreed not to penalise striking pilots and their supporters, while the union backed down on their call for some senior airline managers to be replaced.

More than 600 pilots went on strike in the middle of the peak Lunar New Year holiday season last week. Stranded travellers lashed out at the airlines and the pilots for failing to consider their responsibilities to passengers.

China Airlines said it would compensate affected passengers up to US$250 (S$340) as long as they had proof of their additional expenses.

The airline was last hit by a strike in 2016 when cabin crews walked out for two days, resulting in 122 cancelled international flights and US$9 million in losses.

The strike also disrupted the 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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