China Airlines has started negotiations with its flight attendants following a strike that left over 20,0000 passengers stranded in Taiwan on Friday.
Flight attendants at Taiwan’s flagship carrier went on strike at midnight on Thursday in protest of the company’s working conditions. 76 flights were cancelled to multiple destinations, including Hong Kong and Japan.
Many passengers at the island’s main airports in Taoyuan and Taipei loudly protested the strike, with one telling SET TV that “You people have the right to stage the strike and it is none of my business, but it should not affect us, and who is to compensate for our losses?”
Thousands of employees joined in an overnight rally that began at midnight on Thursday at the company’s Taipei headquarters. Employees wore headbands and held placards, chanting “No more deprival of labourers’ benefits” and “Reverse employer-employee relations.”
The director of the airline’s union, Lin Hsin-yi, cited poor working conditions and lack of benefits as major reasons why the workers decided to go on strike. She noted that the length of the strike depends on “when the company decides to revert back to the hourly wage rates and duty-reporting rules that were in use before June 1.”
Starting June 1st, the company required all its employees to commute to its Taoyuan base, about an hour’s journey away from Taipei, cutting down the number of rest hours. The company said this was done in an attempt to cut costs.
According to Initium Media, tensions between flight crew and management have been building up for several years, resulting in the first ever strike by a Taiwan-based airline. In 2012, the sudden death of a cabin manager lead to questions over working hours, and in May of this year, crew members protested the long working hours frequently assigned to them by the company.
On Friday, Taiwan’s newly elected president Tsai Ing-wen boarded a chartered China Airlines flight to Central and South America, her first foreign trip as president. Before her departure, she voiced her support for crew members. “If it wasn’t unbearable for them, no flight attendant would go towards a strike.”
Tsai said her government will “look into the appeals of China Airlines (CAL) employees seriously and solve the problems with sincerity,” according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency.