by Brian Hioe
Pphoto credit: WikiCommons/CC
CHINA AIRLINES the union has reached an agreement with management to year-end bonuses will consist of six months’ salary last month. This is an all-time high for year-end bonuses distributed by China Airlines in the company’s 62-year history.
In particular, the company cited profits from its freight division as enabling the bonus. China Airlines will also increase salaries by 4%, in line with salary increases for civil servants, teachers, police and the military.
Namely, the majority owner of China Airlines is the Taiwanese government and it is the flag carrier of Taiwan. As a result, workers may be perceived as demanding equal treatment, similar to public sector workers. Although China Airlines is ostensibly a private company, the argument is then that China Airlines workers should be treated as if they were public sector workers and given equal benefits.
It is more common for companies to justify cutting end-of-year bonuses on the pretext of COVID-19. In a similar time frame, for example, a Taiwanese shoe manufacturer in Vietnam provoked a strike by some 14,000 workers due to attempts to reduce their Tet bonuses, Tet being the commemoration of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year.
The airline industry has been particularly hard hit, due to travel difficulties resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. This led China Airlines to lose NT 2.02 billion in the first three quarters of 2020. Nevertheless, China Airlines cargo industry profits still recorded a cumulative net profit of NT 1.55 billion this year.
China Airlines Headquarters. Photo credit: watson88/WikiCommons/CC
Some news reports suggest other airlines have not been as generous as China Airlines. For example, EVA Air, Taiwan’s other major airline, only plans to hand out year-end bonuses of 1.5 months’ salary. EVA did not respond to questions from the media on whether this was the case, although some noted that compared to China Airlines’ 21 cargo planes, EVA has only seven cargo planes.
At the same time, it would be wrong to consider end-of-year bonuses as the result of corporate generosity. Namely, China Airlines has seen a series of airport employee protests since the historic flight attendant strike in June 2016. The strike was the first in Taiwan’s airline industry and paved the way for strikes by other China Airlines workers, such as pilots, which hit in February 2019.
Likewise, the strike led to an increase in unionization at other airlines, such as EVA Air. Among other actions, EVA Air flight attendants launched a sit-in in January 2018 and went on strike in June 2019. Immediately after the China Airlines strike, there was also an increase in unionization in the transportation industry in Taiwan. Given the importance of the transportation industry in Taiwan, this often leads labor organizers and unions to try to appeal to the central government to intervene in strikes.
In this way, the year-end bonuses given to China Airlines workers should be seen as a result of their continued union organizing in the years following the 2016 China Airlines flight attendant strike. thanks to worker activism that this could take place, rather than the management which decides generously to reward the workers.
Similarly, even though the economic impact of COVID-19 is used to justify the reduction of workers’ wages and bonuses, it is noted that COVID-19 has forced airline workers to face unfair working conditions. previous. This includes long periods of quarantine and frequent testing, which has resulted in mental health strain as airline workers have to spend long periods away from friends and family.
Given this, airline workers have called for more rest periods between long-haul flights, citing the effects on their health. Specifically, China Airlines employees sought to draw attention to the issue after a pilot died while in quarantine in October 2021. This happened after periods when the pilots worked or were in quarantine for 44 consecutive days. Indeed, the organizers cited past examples in which pilots were forced to work 63 hours over twelve days, despite the obvious fact that pilot overwork is dangerous for aviation safety.
This is all the more true in conditions as globally disruptive as COVID-19. On the contrary, workers deserve all the more to be compensated for having worked during this period, but the response of many company managements has instead been to cut wages and try to apply austerity measures.