A strike by cabin crew at Tawainese airline EVA Air has now been dragging on for 11 days in a bitter dispute over pay and conditions that has seen allegations, threats and even the spectre of multi-million dollar legal action thrown into the mix. To make matters worse, talks to bring the saga to an end spectacularly unravelled over the weekend leading to an extension of the industrial action.
Airline executives and at least five union officials from the Taoyuan Flight Attendants’ Union managed to pen an agreement on Friday night which saw the union make big concessions including backtracking on a demand for increased ad diem payments and dropping a clause that improved pay would only go to union members.
In return, EVA Air proposed a new bonus scheme of between $10 to $16 USD per trip on long-haul flights or other duties that involved an overnight stay. The airline was said it would turn ‘there and back’ trips to Tokyo and Beijing into layovers over complaints that flight attendants were working excessively long duty days.
Key to the deal was a pledge from EVA Air that it would also not take any further action against flight attendants who had been on strike – the union says that over 2,000 flight attendants have supported the strike and EVA Air has been forced to cancel over 1,000 flights because it did not have enough crew willing to work.
But with talks stalling, there are now new allegations coming from EVA Air that claim the union is refusing to return passports to striking flight attendants. The union collected travel documents from flight attendants willing to take part in the strike – apparently as a guarantee that they wouldn’t publicly support the strike but then go behind the union’s back and work anyway.
According to the union, the flight attendants signed waivers saying they gave permission for the union to look after their documents. But the airline says the union is refusing to return passports to flight attendants who want to return to work. The numbers vary from source to source but there are suggestions that around 100 flight attendants are seeking to the return of their passports.
In response, EVA Air says it will pay for the affected crew to apply for new passports although the union argues that new passports can only be issued for lost or stolen documents – and that isn’t the case.
The union has returned some passports but suggests that flight attendants are being put under pressure by EVA Air.
“We need to understand why they would like to retrieve the documents and whether they are being forced to retrieve them by the company — and if that is the case, we hope to help them,” explained union official Liao Yi-chin.
In a vote over the weekend, flight attendants backed the draft deal, so it’s not entirely clear why the two sides couldn’t push the agreement through, although it’s clear there are unresolved issues that need to be addressed.