Sat, Feb 09, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Thousands affected by pilots’ strike

PEAK TRAVEL PERIOD:The strike affected 3,184 passengers yesterday, and union officials said that the number of participating pilots is likely to grow

By Jason Pan, Wu Liang-Yi and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporters, with Staff writer

Passengers wait to check in at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport yesterday.

Photo: EPA-EFE

Thousands of travelers faced major disruptions after a pilots’ union announced a strike against China Airlines Ltd (CAL, 中華航空) yesterday morning — the first staged during a Lunar New Year holiday.

Shortly after midnight yesterday, the Taoyuan Union of Pilots said that China Airlines pilots who are union members would go on strike from 6am.

The airline, passengers and officials were taken by surprise, as many thought the union would not go on strike, because it is a peak travel period and tens of thousands of people had booked flights going abroad or returning to Taiwan.

As of noon yesterday, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications said that the strike had affected 3,184 passengers.

China Airlines is one of the nation’s largest carriers, and the strike had an immediate effect on Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, Kaohsiung International Airport and Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport).

Union officials held a news conference at Songshan airport in the morning, where union board director Chen Pei-pei (陳蓓蓓) said the group has not set a schedule, and if the company does not address pilots’ grievances, they would go on strike indefinitely.

The union has collected more than 200 flying certificates from member pilots, which means that they agree to the strike and have voluntarily given up their rights to operate an aircraft, she said.

“Many pilots are on vacation right now, but they will soon return home and will hand in their credentials. So the number will continue to grow. We have also received numerous calls from members expressing their support for the strike,” Chen said.

This would affect more China Airlines flights in the coming days, she said, adding that the union represents about 900, or 80 percent, of the carrier’s pilots.

Union members said that the issue of overwork was their main grievance.

“We are asking the company to remove factors that cause pilots fatigue and threaten flight safety,” union chairwoman Lee Hsin-yen (李信燕) said.

Specifically, China Airlines should assign four pilots and copilots instead of the usual three to all flights of more than 12 hours, while flights of eight hours or more should have three crew members instead of two, Lee said.

However, the airline has refused, saying that the proposed move would significantly increase the company’s operational costs and reduce its competitiveness, Lee said.

Pilots said that they have been demanding better pay, more rest hours and greater autonomy for nearly a year.

China Airlines also held a news conference, saying that the strike affected 18 flights, or 10 percent of its transport capacity.

It urged passengers not to panic, saying it would work with other airlines to send them to their destinations.

The airline said in a statement that it has never stopped negotiating with pilots and that union officials were misleading the public, because many of the demands they made in public were different from what they had told the company.

China Airlines chairman Ho Nuan-hsuan (何煖軒) traveled to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport at 10am, where he thanked ground staff for doing their job and maintaining standards.

“I had asked union representatives to sit down and negotiate together, but they were not willing to do so... I still look for such a face-to-face meeting to find common ground,” Ho said.

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