Fri, May 02, 2008 - Page 12 News List

FAT union threatens to strike over salary owed

UNPAID DUESUnion chairman and board member Johnny Chen said FAT employees have only two options left — to be laid off or to stop going to work

By Jerry Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

The labor union at cash-strapped Far Eastern Air Transport (FAT, 遠東航空) said yesterday that it would not rule out a work stoppage if the airline fails to pay overdue salaries before May 15.

More than half of FAT’s 1,111 union members attended the meeting, with 494 voting in favor of a strike if they do not receive their salaries before the deadline.

FAT has faced increasing difficulty paying its employees salaries since a financial crisis hit the company in February. The airline still owes 50 percent of the salaries due in March and 40 percent of last month’s salaries to its approximately 1,200 employees.

“According to the Labor Standards Law (勞基法), FAT employees have only two options at the moment,” union chairman Johnny Chen (陳國良) said at a meeting yesterday.

“One is to ask the company to lay off staff,” said Chen, who is also a board member of FAT. “Unfortunately, FAT may only be able to pay back debts to its creditors instead of offering its employees severance pay.”

“The other option is to stop going to work,” Chen said.

Chen said that if FAT could not afford to pay out the salaries it owes, employees could also turn to the government’s wage arrears repayment fund for help.

Chen also said that in a worst-case scenario — that is, if FAT is forced to shut down — employees could ask for their share of the company’s labor pension fund, which still had approximately NT$570 million (US$18.7 million) in its coffers in March, he said.

Chen said that AirAsia Berhad of Malaysia and Jetstar Asia Airways Private Ltd of Singapore — both of which focus on offering low-cost flights — had expressed an interest in investing in FAT.

AirAsia denied in a Bloomberg Newswire report on Wednesday that it planned to buy a stake in FAT. However, Chen said yesterday that AirAsia representatives might come to Taiwan next week to look at FAT’s investment potential.

Separately, Lou Wen-hao (樓文豪), the head of Cambodia’s Angkor Airways’ Taiwan branch office, was detained by prosecutors yesterday as part of their investigation into the embezzlement scandal at FAT.

Taipei judges granted prosecutors’ requests at around 2am yesterday to detain Lou, but decided to release Shih Chien-hua (施建華), FAT’s planning manager, on NT$300,000 bail and bar him from leaving the country. Lou and Shih were charged with breach of trust.

Additional reporting by Jimmy Chuang

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