Government intervention needed in airline strikes: experts

2019/07/13 16:38:59 fontsize-small fontsize-default fontsize-big
Government intervention needed in airline strikes: experts

By Lee Hsin-Yin, CNA staff reporter

Taiwan has seen two strikes in the airline industry this year alone, and with the latest one by EVA Airways cabin crew having just concluded July 9, many aviation and labor experts agree that the government should play a bigger role in such disputes to better protect passengers.

"While labor issues are open to debate, flight safety should never be compromised," said Hwang Tay-lin (黃泰林), a professor of the Department of Aviation and Maritime Transportation Management at Chang Jung Christian University.

Proper government intervention is necessary for the public good, he said.

The strike that started June 20 will have led to the cancellations of 2,200 flights by July 20, affecting 400,000 passengers.

What the public saw during the strike, the longest in Taiwan's aviation industry, was two relevant authorities passing the buck, namely the Ministry of Transportation and Communications and the Ministry of Labor, Hwang said.

He argued that when a labor-management dispute has reached a point that causes great inconvenience to the public, there should be specialized arbitration to reconcile differences between the two ministries.

One possible solution lies in the introduction of the Aviation Safety Council (ASC), which will be restructured and designated a national transportation safety council in August, he said.

Settling disputes

Since the new agency will be tasked with improving transportation safety, it should have a role to play in a prolonged strike that could have a potential impact on flight safety, according to Hwang.

"The government should consider not only appeals from labor and management, but also what consumers have to say," added Cheng Chih-yu (成之約), a professor and chairman of the Graduate Institute of Labor Research at National Chengchi University.

With increased importance of the service sector in modern society, consumers are no longer simply bystanders in labor disputes but key stakeholders, according to Cheng.

However, as consumers' rights are often overlooked during strikes as there is no powerful government unit bargaining for them, other dispute settlement mechanisms should be used to facilitate labor-management talks, he said.

Cheng suggested proper law enforcement, citing Article 25 of the Act for Settlement of Labor-Management Disputes, which stipulates that when a labor dispute is not successfully concluded but has a great impact on the interests of the public, the government can arbitrate the case.

According to Pan Shih-wei (潘世偉), a former labor minister and professor at Chinese Culture University Department of Labor Relations, the government should set up an institution similar to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) in the United States.

The FMCS, an independent agency of the U.S. government, provides regular mediation and conflict resolution services to industry, government agencies and communities.

Strike notice

Another issue that has come to the fore is whether aviation workers should give the company notice when they plan to strike, as this would affect passengers' ability to make a timely response.

However, there have been divergent views from the transportation and labor ministries. While the former has been aggressively pushing for such a mechanism to be written into law, the latter has been reluctant, arguing that it would weaken the bargaining power of the labor side.

Alex Lu (盧衍良), an associate professor at the Department of Air Transportation at Kainan University, said strikers should be required to give a heads-up before taking strike action.

"Most passengers are also labor, and we can't sacrifice that group's right to travel while upholding another group's rights to improve their work conditions," Lu said, stressing that unions should give 10-14 days' notice, as is the case in most other countries.

Other experts share the view of reducing the impact on passengers, but through different methods.

A notice system is workable, but it should not be up to the government to decide but rather the result of a consensus reached between companies and their employees, Pan said.

Chiu Yu-fan (邱羽凡), an assistant professor at the School of Law at National Chiao Tung University, said that instead of pressuring unions to give a heads-up, it should be the airlines that are responsible for preventing chaos.

"The airlines should tell passengers what their plans are before the strikes, so people know what to expect and how to respond," she said.

Reconciling laws

Other experts, meanwhile, urge the government to reconcile inconsistencies between the country's labor laws and flight operation regulations to help both sides find a consensus in what constitutes a reasonable work environment in the aviation industry.

"The lack of knowledge of how the aviation industry works only raises tension in labor-management relations,"said Tai Tso-min (戴佐敏), an associate professor in the Department of Transportation and Communication Management Science at National Cheng Kung University.

Under Taiwan's Aircraft Flight Operation Regulations (AOR) -- which are aligned with global aviation industry standards -- a cabin crew may not perform more than 14 hours of work within a 24-hour period on international flights.

Taiwan's Labor Standards Act stipulates, however, that no worker can work for more than 12 hours per day, even with overtime.

Considering the special nature of the aviation industry, the union has agreed to follow Article 84-1 of the Act, which allows workers to arrange their own working hours with their employers after their agreements are submitted to regulatory authorities for approval.

The clause gives the carriers more flexibility in scheduling flight crews, but it has also led to disagreement between management and labor in individual cases, especially on regional routes.

The experts' views echo expectations of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents about 290 carriers, or more than 80 percent of global air traffic.

"(Striking) is a very, very sensitive political issue," IATA CEO Alexandre de Juniac told CNA. "It is something that goes much beyond the borders of our single industry. Generally it's a national issue that has to be dealt with nationally."


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