Tue, Feb 19, 2019 - Page 14 News List

Should travelers be held hostage by strikers?

Members of unions from throughout Taiwan demonstrate on Feb. 11 outside Taipei International Airport (Songshan Airport) in support of the airline pilots’ strike.

Photo: Peter Lo, Liberty Times

In the past three years China Airlines (CAL) employees have held two strikes. In the most recent bout of industrial action, strikers initially attempted to win over public support by framing the strike action as an appeal to concerns over aviation safety. However, their decision to hold the strike during the Lunar New Year holiday peak travel period and choosing to announce the strike in the middle of the night, giving the public only 6 hours’ prior warning, meant that many travelers, in addition to many within the travel industry, were left high and dry. While it is the legal right of workers to hold a strike to fight for their rights, communications and transportation is one of several industries whose uninterrupted operation is in the public interest. As such, it is not just a question of salary disputes and workers’ rights; it also touches upon whether it is right to use travelers as bargaining chips in the process.

The first time CAL encountered a strike was in June 2016, just after President Tsai Ing-wen had assumed office and the airline’s management was about to embark upon a reorganization. Caught off guard by striking cabin crew, both the government and the airline capitulated to almost all the cabin crews’ demands. This time, the airline’s pilots decided to go on strike on the fourth day of the Lunar New Year, again catching the airline’s management unawares with a surprise picket, in doing so initiating a debate over whether it should be mandatory for workers to give a strike notification period. Minister of Labor Hsu Ming-chun had reservations, believing it could impede worker’s rights, while the cabinet, worried about starting a new political fight, initially ruled out amending the law.


1. strike; industrial action n; phr.

罷工 (ba4 gong1)

2. bargaining chip phr.

籌碼 (chou2 ma3)

3. reorganization n.

改組 (gai2 zu3)

4. public interest phr.


(da4 zhong4 li4 yi4)

5. go bankrupt; go bust phr.

倒閉 (dao3 bi4)

If CAL were a normal business, few would be scrutinizing the demands of its workers and management’s response. Since CAL operates within the transport and communications sector under license and performs a public service, when disputes between its workers and management occur, the public interest should not be pushed to one side.

It is for this reason that many countries require airlines and other public service providers to implement a strike notification period, which has the duel benefit of upholding worker’s rights while also mitigating the impact of strike action on consumers. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Labor seemed to be purely concerned with labor rights, while the cabinet was focused solely upon the political ramifications.

Moreover, having been through two instances of industrial action, in addition to suffering an enormous loss of revenue, the damage to the airline’s reputation will be more difficult to quantify. While internationally there have been instances of airlines going bankrupt due to strike action, CAL is part public owned, with approximately 50 percent of its shares owned by government. As such, it is highly unlikely that the government would allow the company to go bust, and why it has been reticent in its approach to dealing with the strike: this may well be the reason the airline’s employees have felt emboldened enough to hold repeated strikes. The government needs to consider whether the airline’s operational structure is fit for purpose.

(Translated by Edward Jones, Taipei Times)


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