OPINION: EVA Air and the Sad State of Taiwanese Corporate Culture

OPINION: EVA Air and the Sad State of Taiwanese Corporate Culture
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Two weeks into EVA Air’s union strike, hundreds of flights have been canceled. The airline has estimated a NT$ 1.75 billion loss in revenue due to the current strike, the largest and longest one in Taiwan’s aviation history. Yet EVA doesn't seem to have the urgency to resolve the demands of over two thousand flight attendants.

In the past few years, EVA flight attendants have been asking for better flight schedules, higher pay, and reduction in work hours. The all-female crew has also faced numerous cases of sexual harassment, including the internationally reported “butt wipe” incident in January. Despite the airline’s gross negligence in protecting its employees, it was only fined NT$ 60,000 by the government.

EVA has not only been fidgeting its promises during negotiations with the union, it has also been slow in handling impacted passengers despite being aware of the potential strike months in advance. With the EVA Air fiasco, what can we learn about Taiwanese corporate culture from the airline’s attitude towards its flight attendants?

陪長榮空服罷工 民眾齊聚凱道(2)
Photo Credit: CNA
July 2 rally at the Ketagalan Boulevard in support of the Eva Air union strike
Customers come first. Company comes second. Employees come last.

Take the January “butt wipe” incident for example. EVA has said the flight attendants knew they could have said no to his demands, but agreed out of a “spirit of service.”

Here’s an excerpt from EVA’s press release to media on January 23 describing previous incidents with this same passenger:

“On a flight from TPE to BKK in 2018, it was reported that the passenger asked the crew members to assist in cleaning his urine bottle. Although the Thai flight attendants knew that they were not required to assist him in cleaning the container, they were willing to wear gloves and helped him out of the spirit of service.”

EVA blamed their flight attendants for inviting the harassment upon themselves and said, “not our fault.” The airline also displayed a consistent and egregious lack of concern for cabin hygiene and safety. How was it acceptable for a passenger to use a urine bottle in his seat, let alone ask flight attendants to clean it? How was it not a major hygiene fail?

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Photo Credit: Reuters/ TPG Images
Sexism is not a problem; it’s a business strategy.

The “butt wipe” incident could have been easier to avoid if there was a male EVA flight attendant onboard. The passenger might have found it way less appealing to beg a male flight attendant to wipe his ass.

However, the shocking fact is EVA doesn’t have any male flight attendants. The airline has only announced its decision to hire male cabin crew for the first time in its corporate history, amid the current strike.

EVA is clearly very comfortable with objectifying their young, all-female cabin crew, as evidenced by the front cover of its 2017 Annual Report where staff are described as “Exquisite, Vibrant, Attentive” while dusting, spraying perfume and modeling.

EVA
Screenshot from EVA Air CSR 2017


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Harassment is not clearly defined and it’s rarely reported.

EVA has only established a formal Sexual Harassment Prevention & Control policy since 2015. According to the EVA CSR reports, there were zero records of sexual harassment in 2015 and 2016, and only one in 2017. This points to a workplace culture where sexual harassment is not clearly defined, and where employees are afraid of or discouraged from reporting the cases.

Sexual harassment and assault is also an in-flight issue for passengers. The FBI reported in June 2018 that sexual assaults on flights are increasing at an “alarming” rate. If EVA management can’t identify cases of sexual harassment against its own staff, how would it train its employees to see harassment against other passengers during flights?

Another incident that occurred on January 19 (the very same day as the other incident) is also telling. EVA received an anonymous letter on January 18 claiming one of their flight attendants had appeared in a porn video. (It wasn’t her.) Instead of looking into why this employee was being targeted, her supervisors pulled her in for three hours of interrogation.

She was made to watch the video and answer questions about her personal life and dating history, then forced to write a statement that she would never do anything to “hurt the company’s reputation.” This incident was made public anonymously by the EVA flight attendant herself.

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Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images
Obsession with winning awards and high scores

Since joining the Star Alliance network in 2013, EVA has been all about its safety and service rankings and industry recognitions. The company has started to accumulate flight awards since 2014 according to its website.

And EVA’s annual customer satisfaction targets have gone up in each year’s customer satisfaction report since joining the Star Alliance. As the target goes up, the reported score is always higher than the target except for 2017. Is it even possible for EVA staff to keep getting higher scores?

This score-obsessed culture is reminiscent of the traditional education system in Asia where exams and grades matter more than anything else. It’s not good enough to get an A. You have to be top of your class.

The question is: are service awards and scores more important to EVA than the well-being of its crew?


The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The original post was published on Tricky Taipei.

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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