The Taoyuan Union of Pilots led a strike against China Airlines. Some commentators considered the strike controversial, because it was led by union chairwoman Lee Hsin-yen (李信燕), an EVA Airways pilot, and an external professional union, which is minor compared with the company’s own union. They think that it was essentially an employee of another airline who was determining the future of China Airlines — a point that deserves further examination.
China Airlines has answered the union: it pilots enjoy higher pay and better benefits than other airlines’ pilots, satisfying international standards and making their pilots no worse off than pilots in the US or Europe; the company complies with the Labor Standards Act (勞基法) and, in any case, there is no such issue as “fatigue flights”; employees are promoted from within, foreign pilots are not recruited; and Taiwanese copilots have the chance for captain training and promotion.
Business is business: There is no difference between local or foreign pilots when it comes to flight safety. The most important thing is to improve flight safety by training outstanding pilots, regardless of nationality. This is also the best way to remain competitive.
As for the “free-rider clause” — Article 13 of the Collective Agreement Act (團體協約法) — the company’s opinion is that different pay and benefits for the same position is unfair to employees.
The pilots’ strike seemed to be a consequence of the China Airlines flight attendants’ strike in 2016. At that time, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) set the tone, saying that no flight attendant would have gone on strike unless the situation was unbearable, after which the company’s management team was quickly replaced and all the flight attendants’ demands were met.
Some commentators have said that the pilots’ strike resulted from a misjudgement on the part of the government.
At the time, the Taoyuan Flight Attendants’ Union was so arrogant that it even expelled members who served on Tsai’s airplane, because they worked during the strike. This is a negative consequence of the Democratic Progressive Party’s indulgence of labor unions.
The scenario is similar to what happened in the UK when former British Labour Party leader James Callaghan served as British prime minister. Callaghan’s politics had a socialist orientation and he adopted a laissez-faire attitude toward trade unions, to the extent that a single union for the electricity industry could exert pressure on the government by threatening power cuts.
With frequent coal miner strikes, the British economy was on the verge of collapse and Callaghan was forced to call a general election. Callaghan had to step down and the Conservative Party led by Margaret Thatcher rose to power and successfully curbed the power of trade unions, causing the British economy to surge.
To develop the economy, the government should not allow labor unions to become domineering. A lesson can be drawn from Detroit, Michigan: Once a center for auto manufacturing, companies were forced to shut down due to powerful labor unions.
Taiwan is a democracy following the rule of law. The government should demonstrate perseverance and take a firm stance in the face of strikes, and not appease different sides or make compromises and concessions in response to unreasonable strikes and protests.
The public will be grateful to the government for making the right decision.
Tseng Chao-chang is a former chairman of the Taiwan Bar Association.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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