by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: 桃園市空服員職業工會/Facebook
THE EVA AIR flight attendants’ strike came to an end yesterday, with an agreement signed between union representatives from the Taoyuan Flight Attendants’ Union and EVA management. Flight attendants will resume work at 12 AM on July 10th.
Yesterday was the 17th day of the strike and the negotiation between union members and management was the third negotiation session held since the start of the strike, as well as one of over twenty negotiating sessions between union representatives and management in the last two years. EVA flight attendants of the Taoyuan Flight Attendants’ Union are all women, as EVA does not hire male flight attendants.
Before an agreement was reached between EVA flight attendants and management, EVA flight attendants and their supporters held a rally on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office, calling on the central government to intercede. Organizers later claimed that one thousand attended this demonstration. The agreement was not reached through government intercession, however.
EVA flight attendants had been maintaining an occupation outside of EVA headquarters in Nankan, Taoyuan since the strike began. To add pressure to management, on Friday, the sixteenth day of the strike, thirty EVA flight attendants marched 35 kilometers from Nankan to Ketagalan Boulevard, setting out at 5 AM and arriving at approximately 5 PM.
Where pay and rest conditions are concerned, the Taoyuan Flight Attendants’ Union, which represents EVA flight attendants, secured demands for a bonus for short flights of 300 NT, and a bonus for transoceanic flights of 500 NT. EVA flight attendants also secured the right to take overnight rests from March to June on flight routes BR108 BR184, and BR198, which fly to Tokyo, and flight route BR716 from June to August, which flies to Beijing.
Yet EVA flight attendants had to give up on many of their original demands, which included raising the hourly layover allowance from 90 NT to 150 NT, and paying employees double for working on public holidays. EVA flight attendants originally called for overnight rests to be allowed for seven destinations beyond just Tokyo and Beijing.
EVA flight attendants were more successful in terms of demands for representation. Union members called for union members being represented on the EVA board and its disciplinary committee. With the agreement, thirteen EVA union members will be appointed to the board as directors. Management agreed to hold regular meetings with their employees, reviews, and board meetings, and serving flight attendant representatives would be able to observe disciplinary committee evaluations. EVA also agreed not to take any retaliation against EVA employees.
Nevertheless, according to the terms of the agreement, the Taoyuan Flight Attendants’ Union cannot strike for three years, if management complies with the condition of not retaliating against EVA employees. EVA flight attendants also cannot strike on domestic routes.
The Taoyuan Flight Attendants’ leadership agreed to the terms of the meeting after EVA management agreed to drop clauses from the agreement which would have forbidden union members from “bullying” or “criticizing” company executives, imposed a 500,000 NT fine on employees making “untrue comments” against the company, and required a 30-day notice before strikes were declared.
Indeed, such terms were likely intended to silence dissent within the company and to blunt the effectiveness of strikes by requiring advance notice of them. The Taoyuan Flight Attendants’ Union has stated that it views management’s priorities as being to defend its authority over EVA workers much more than preventing loss of profits because of workers on strike. It is noteworthy that management refused to relent for so long during the strike, even after the strike led to losses of 2.78 billion NTD for the company.
Compared to other strikes in Taiwan’s airline industry since the historic China Airlines strike, the first strike in the history of Taiwan’s airline industry, one notes that the public was decidedly more hostile toward the EVA flight attendants’ strike. As union members have stated, airline managements have become more effective in stratagems to turn public opinion against unions in past years, as well as more effective in terms of tactics aimed at creating internal divisions within the union. But to this extent, it is also possible that any public backlash against striking EVA flight attendants is the cumulative effect of backlash against strikes by China Airlines flight attendants, China Airlines pilots, and previous strikes by EVA flight attendants in 2018.
As such, this may be why EVA flight attendants had to retreat on their full set of demands. It remains to be seen as to what steps EVA flight attendants should take in the future to counteract attempts by company management to depict them in a bad light.
In the meantime, it is to be seen whether management will comply with the demands they agreed to, particularly regarding the agreement not to retaliate against workers—something which is already illegal, but union members were forced to negotiate on nonetheless. To this extent, it is to be seen whether any of the new mechanisms set up for consultation between management and workers will be effective in curbing issues, such as the blind eye that management has turned toward cases of sexual harassment on the job—or cases in which management itself has carried out sexual harassment.
And it is to be seen as to what the next steps for the EVA flight attendants in the Taoyuan Flight Attendants’ Union should be, particularly with its capacity to strike off the table for the next three years. With the popularization of the notion of passing laws requiring advance notice of strikes in Taiwan after the EVA strike, steps will also need to be taken by union members—not only of the Taoyuan Flight Attendants’ Union, but also Taiwanese labor unions writ large—to counteract any push for the legalization of such a law.