by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Wei-Te Wong/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 2.0
GROUND WORKERS for EVA Air, employed by the Eva Air affiliate, Evergreen Airline Services Corporation, are currently on strike. The strike has been ongoing today and yesterday.
One of the primary issues of contention is against low year-end bonuses despite record profits by Evergreen, which owns EVA Air, this year. Nevertheless, workers are also demonstrating against the burden on airline ground workers during COVID-19, salary increases being lower than expected, and being made to work overtime.
In particular, Evergreen posted record profits in some sectors of the company this year. The Evergreen Marine Corporation reported 304.35 billion NT in profits for the first three quarters of last year, which is up 92% for year-on-year profit. As a result, the Evergreen Marine Corporation gave some employees up to 52 months in wages as a year-end bonus, which was up from 40 months last year. However, one notes that most employees received between 10 and 45 months’ bonuses, and awarding some specific employees up to 52 months’ bonus serves as publicity for the company. Year-end bonuses in Taiwan, in fact, can sometimes serve as a means for companies to pay workers less fixed salary while maintaining a variable amount as a bonus.
By contrast, EVA Air only gave ground workers only one month’s bonus, with other EVA Air workers receiving three months’ bonus. Workers were also promised salary increases they do not seem to have received. This is not the first time that the issue of low bonuses has become an issue for EVA Air ground workers, with dissatisfaction over a 10,000 NT bonus last year reportedly causing more than one-quarter of the company workers to leave. While workers were already under a heavier burden than normal due to COVID-19, this rapid rate of turnover has increased the stresses on EVA Air workers.
The ongoing strike began on January 1st, that is, yesterday, and has continued today. This was apparently a spontaneous action that began in protest of the low bonuses that were announced. 97 of 327 workers scheduled to work took days off or declined to work overtime yesterday, while 54 of 291 workers scheduled to work did so this morning. Yesterday, that meant that close to 30% of EVA Air ground crew workers took off. This has resulted in significant delays, including of up to around two hours for passenger flights.
EVA Air management claims that it expects services to return to normal tomorrow. In the meantime, probably with an eye on PR, management staff including EVA Air’s general manager has taken to taking up work normally carried out by ground crew. EVA Air has also taken to calling up workers and asking them to work.
The airline sector has been a hotspot for labor organizing in the past decade, starting from the historic China Airlines flight attendants’ strike in summer 2016–the first strike in the history of Taiwan’s airline industry. Subsequently, one saw a wave of labor organizing in the flight industry and transportation industry more broadly, among different categories of workers such as flight attendants, pilots, and others, efforts by management to crack down on union organizers by firing them or by engaging in redbaiting notwithstanding.
The Taoyuan Pilots’ Union has expressed support for the strike by EVA ground crew. On the other hand, the Taoyuan International Airport Union (桃園航勤企業工會) has stated that it will not get involved with the strike because of its own ongoing labor disputes.
Namely, the Taoyuan International Airport Union may strike over the Lunar New Year holiday. Its major demands include calling for a 4% increase in wages, increases in overnight subsidies from 50 NT to 75 NT, increases in subsidies of 1,000 NT for current operation and of 2,000 NT for technical operation, and adjustment of the pay and salary structure. The airport union is probably hoping for its demands not to get caught up in the demands of specifically EVA Air workers and is scheduled to vote on the issue on January 6th. This could affect up to 70% of ground workers at Taoyuan International Airport.
Taoyuan mayor Simon Chang has called on management and workers to engage in dialogue, with the Taoyuan Department of Labor expressing a willingness to facilitate dialogue. Labor officials have stated that workers can engage in dialogue through unions or through groups of at least ten workers of the same rank.
If a potential Lunar New Year strike by airline workers goes ahead, this would be one of a number of potential strikes in the transportation industry that may take place over the Lunar New Year. Taiwan Railways Administration workers have also suggested that they may strike over the Lunar New Year over the planned corporatization of the company, pertaining to how that will affect conditions facing workers and maintenance of infrastructure. It is strategic that Taiwanese transportation sector workers would try to pressure management using one of the most significant annual periods of travel, however.