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Labor-management talks over pilot strike set to restart at 1 a.m.

2019/02/12 22:30:58

Taipei, Feb. 12 (CNA) After the collapse of the latest round of talks between the Pilots Union Taoyuan and China Airline (CAL) after union members went on strike last week, union officials agreed to return to the negotiating table, but asked that the talks begin at 1 a.m. Wednesday.

The request was agreed to by CAL and the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC), which is mediating the dispute, the ministry said, adding that the planned talks will be open to the media.

The union asked for talks to resume at 1 a.m. in a statement, titled "Negotiations on Fatigue Flights in Fatigue Hours," as a protest over what it characterized as CAL's dismissive attitude over union claims about pilot fatigue.

This will be the third round of talks between the union and CAL, one of Taiwan's largest carriers, since Feb. 7, when failure to reach agreement on union demands, including pilot "overwork," broke down, leading CAL pilots to take industrial action at 6 a.m. the following day.

On Monday, the union started a second round of talks with CAL. However, no agreement was reached and the strike continued, joined by over 500 of CAL's more than 1,300 pilots.

The ongoing strike has disrupted many CAL flights, raising concerns in the central government, which ordered the transport ministry, the largest shareholder in CAL, to mediate the dispute.

In August last year, the pilots union, which represents about 900, or 70 percent of CAL pilots, voted in favor of a strike to demand improvements in overwork, transparency in the company's promotion and training system for co-pilots and 19 other issues.

After the vote, the union reached a preliminary agreement with CAL management to complete consultations on the 21 issues within a year, but decided to strike on Feb. 8 when talks broke down.

After two rounds of negotiations, the main issue separating the two sides is work hours on regional flights and how many hours constitute "overwork."

The first round of negotiations last week broke down because the airline insisted it would only agree to three pilots on flights over eight hours, while the pilots were asking for three pilots on flights of over seven hours.

On Monday, union board director Chen Pei-pei (陳蓓蓓) said the union agreed to the eight-hour threshold for three pilots, on passenger flights, but was still demanding a seven-hour threshold for pilots flying multi-sector cargo flights.

Regional flights account for 40 percent of the airline's schedule and take eight hours on average for a round trip.

CAL has said it met the union's key demands after the first round of talks -- essentially four pilots for flights of over 12 hours and three pilots for those of over 8 hours -- but the union keeps bringing up new demands, making further concessions impossible.

At a press conference Tuesday, CAL spokesman Jason Liu (劉朝洋) said that if the company agreed to all the union's demands, "it is not impossible that CAL would go under."

According to CAL, based on the NT$5 million (US$160,000) annual salary a full-time pilot earns at the company, lowering the eight-hour threshold to seven hours would require the deployment of 90 additional pilots annually, increasing operational costs by NT$450 million a year.

Meanwhile, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) expressed hope Tuesday that the strike will come to an end as soon as possible. He said the Cabinet's focus is aviation safety and good labor conditions.

CAL will cancel more than 60 flights from Wednesday to Feb. 20, including 33 flights on Wednesday, according to the carrier's latest updates on its website about strike-related cancellations.

Since the strike began last Friday, CAL has canceled a total of 136 flights, affecting over 20,000 passengers.

For the complete list of CAL's flight cancellations, please log on to: https://www.china-airlines.com/au/en/discover/news/press-release/announcement

(By Wu Hsin-yun, Chen Wei-ting, Ku Chun, Chiu Chun-chin and Elizabeth
Hsu)
Enditem/AW