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Taiwan’s Airline Employees Are Striking for the 2nd Time in 2019

 
 

Flight attendants for Taiwan’s EVA Airways pushed their ongoing strike into its seventh day on Thursday in what is the country’s second major airline strike in less than five months.

The ongoing impasse is expected to affect over 200,000 passengers in total by June 30. The airline said Thursday it would soon announce additional flight cancellations, according to a Taiwan transportation official.

EVA has had a difficult year, facing a public relations crisis in January when employees accused the airline of not defending a female flight attendant who had been forced to undress and clean a male passenger in the airplane’s lavatory.

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The airline now finds itself scrambling to mediate a dispute with over 2,000 EVA Air flight attendants who are insisting that a labor representative be appointed to the company’s board, along with an increased daily stipend, limits on consecutive work hours, and a ban on non-union members receiving benefits negotiated by the union.

EVA management has said flight attendants already receive a daily allowance higher than that provided by most competitors.

Pilots for Taiwan’s other major airline, China Airlines, went on strike for seven days in February to demand an increase in the number of pilots on long-haul flights.

Stranded passengers have criticized EVA for its handling of the strike, reporting on social media the airline has been slow to respond to customer service calls and appeared unprepared for the work stoppage despite the union signaling its willingness to strike months in advance.

The strike has been organized by the Taoyuan Flight Attendants’ Union, which represents flight attendants from both China Airlines and EVA. Workers had agreed not to strike during Taiwan’s Dragon Boat Festival in early June, a peak travel period in Taiwan and China.

EVA employees first unionized in 2016, months after China Airlines flight attendants organized the first ever strike in Taiwan’s aviation industry. Analysts have said the current strike may be inspired by the success of the China Airlines pilots’ strike earlier this year.

However, the two sides have barely budged on their respective positions since the strike began on June 20. On Thursday morning, the union shared a revised set of demands in a bid to restart dormant talks with management.

The airline has thus far refused to accede to union demands and has accused the union of withholding the IDs of striking flight attendants who wish to cross the picket line and return to work. The union strongly denies this charge.

As the strike entered its fifth day, EVA president Clay Sun announced the airline would recruit male flight attendants for the first time in decades, in the process criticizing striking members of its existing all-female flight crew.

“Some graduates did not think straight before applying for this job, mistakenly assuming that being a flight attendant was easy and comfortable, and then accusing us of lying,” Sun said. “We did not. There is stress and challenge in this job, like every other job.”

EVA’s policy of hiring only women as flight attendants was heavily scrutinized in January, when flight crew were allegedly sexually harassed by an American male passenger on a flight from Los Angeles to Taipei. One flight attendant broke into tears while recalling the incident at a press conference days later.

Kathy Cheng, a writer who blogs under the name Tricky Taipei, has noted that 97 percent of EVA’s female hires in both 2016 and 2017 were under the age of 30, according to corporate social responsibility reports released by the airline.

In a January blog post, Cheng noted the airline responded in a press release by citing a previous incident on a 2018 flight from Taipei to Bangkok in which the same passenger asked crew members to clean his urine bottle. The press release notes “the Thai flight attendants knew they were not required” to help clean the container but were “willing to wear gloves and helped him out of the spirit of service.”

Later in January, an EVA flight attendant said she had been grilled by management for three hours over a false rumor that she had appeared in a pornographic video and was made to sign a statement vowing to never “hurt the company’s reputation.”

The January incidents raised a fierce debate over the customer-first policies of major Asian corporations and whether a culture of sexism is encouraged in EVA’s business practices.

Deputy Minister of Transportation and Communications Wang Kwo-tsai said Thursday that striking flight attendants who wished to return to work would face no problems should they take back their IDs. He also told media the ministry hopes the strike will end during the upcoming weekend. “Personally,” Wang said, “I pray every day that the strike will end tomorrow.”

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