[PHOTO STORY] Airline Strike Follows Years of Deteriorating Conditions

 [PHOTO STORY] Airline Strike Follows Years of Deteriorating Conditions
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“They don’t treat us as human beings.” China Airlines staff say their health has been suffering as work conditions have steadily worsened in recent years.

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More than 2000 China Airlines staff went on strike in Taipei today demanding better working hours, resting time and improved logistical arrangements.

As the travel plans of thousands of passengers were disrupted, Taoyuan Flight Attendants Union members continued their sit-in near the company’s headquarters in downtown Taipei.

Despite the sweltering heat, a heavy downpour mid-afternoon and frustration over the company’s continued slow response, the camaraderie among the strikers was palpable and spirits were high.

In an apparent effort to keep the group on-message amid tense negotiations with the company, union leaders told participants to avoid speaking directly to reporters.

A handful of union members spoke to The News Lens International on the condition of anonymity. They shed light on years of deteriorating work conditions in an industry that has lost its shine.

'No longer a good job'

A flight attendant, who joined the company nine years ago, says at that time the China Airlines was a “first priority” for young people wanting to get into the industry – she worked at another airline for several years before successfully transferring. However, conditions have steadily been “getting worse,” as management added more early morning flights, reduced crew numbers, cut the turnover times between shifts.

Most recently the company has required staff to report to work at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, rather than at Taipei International Airport (Songshan). She says staff do understand the move from Songshan, in central Taipei, to Taoyuan about 40 minutes drive north-west, particularly as counterparts at other companies have faced the same change.

“It is okay,” but the company needs to provide suitable support, she says, "other companies have a bus.”

She says parking shortages at Taoyuan have seen employees who drive to work will sometimes arrive at the airport three or four hours before their shift starts, just to secure a park. And the company lacks adequate facilities for employees to get changed.

She especially felt for the staff that joined the company in the past few years, who are under a new salary programme, which sees them paid significantly less than their colleagues.

Working for an airline, she says, “is no longer a good job.” Once, it offered the glamour of international travel, exotic sights and shopping, now “it is nothing like that.”

She adds that staff have complained in regular monthly meetings for years, but management “don’t listen.”

Health worsening

One male flight attendant told TNLI that he has been suffering skin irritations and inflammation since starting with the company three years ago.

“I feel like my health condition became worse and worse in these three years,” he says. “Sometimes I get a fever after long-haul flights because I don’t have enough rest.”

He says in his first year the work was “really hard” with “too many red-eye flights” and flight crews that were too small.

A flight attendant says the “pretty harsh” working hours and short turnaround between shifts were difficult.

“Can you imagine? When you go home, maybe it is 5 [pm] and then you go back to work at midnight.”

Another flight attendant, who has been with the company for nine months, says she was “honored to join” her colleagues in the strike because “the company steals my time.”

Similarly, another male flight attendant said, “They don’t treat us as human beings.”

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First Editor: J. Michael Cole