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Overwork issue resurfaces amid CAL pilot strike

2019/02/08 12:32:38

Taipei, Feb. 8 (CNA) The overwork issue again became the bone of contention between China Airlines (CAL) and its pilots during the ongoing strike, with pilots asking the carrier on Friday to beef up crews to address the problem, otherwise they will go on strike indefinitely.

"We are asking the company to remove factors that cause pilots fatigue and threaten flight safety," said Lee Hsin-yen (李信燕), chairwoman of the Pilots Union Taoyuan, at a news conference.

In specific, Lee said, CAL should assign four pilots and co-pilots instead of the usual three to all flights scheduled to take more than 12 hours, while flights taking at least eight hours need three flight crew members instead of two.

But CAL refused by saying that the current dispatch is legal and that the proposed move would significantly increase operational cost of the company and reduce its competitiveness, Lee said.

Lee said the union has so far collected more than 100 flying certificates from member pilots -- meaning that they have voluntarily given up rights to operate an aircraft temporarily -- and that the number is still growing. The union represents about 900, or 70 percent, of CAL's pilots.

In a separate news conference, CAL said the strike has so far only affected 18 flights, or 10 percent of its transport capacity, urging passengers not to panic as it will work with other airlines to send them to their destinations.

The issue of overwork for the aviation sector has always been a tricky one in Taiwan, as under its 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.

The difference in the two standards often lead to disputes over which one provides for more reasonable working conditions, and the Transportation Ministry has pledged many times that they will review the AOR with the Labor Ministry to see if changes are necessary.

In addition, the pilots have asked that CAL establish a transparent promotion system and hire more Taiwanese instead of foreign pilots.

They have also asked the company not to put pressure and threaten pilots who are demanding for their rights, and that the better working conditions reached after negotiations should be exclusively left for union members.

Also, the union argued that its members should be entitled to a year-end bonus equivalent to one month of full salary, which is the case with fellow carrier EVA Air, another leading airlines in Taiwan.

Unqualified senior management should be replaced, the pilots added, although they declined to name whom.

However, except for the promotion system, which CAL said is already fair, no responses were given to other demands raised, Lee said.

Meanwhile, CAL said it has never given up negotiating with the pilots, accusing them of misleading the public because many of their demands made public are different from what they argued with the company in reality.

CAL pilots have demanded better pay, more rest hours, and greater pilot autonomy for nearly a year.

Last year, negotiations between CAL and the union reached a partial consensus after a proposed strike was approved by union members, but other issues were left to be addressed by further talks.

Dissatisfied with a lack of progress in those talks, the union voted earlier this week for a strike and took the action at 6 a.m. Friday.

(By Lee Hsin-Yin)