TAIPEI: A strike by staff from Taiwan’s largest carrier China Airlines left 20,000 passengers without flights Friday in the first industrial action by cabin crew in the island’s aviation history.
The airline was forced to cancel all flights out of the two main airports in the capital Taipei, with the only exception a chartered service for President Tsai Ing-wen who left for a state visit to Panama and Paraguay Friday morning.
Crowds of passengers queued up at CAL counters in Taipei’s Songshan and Taoyuan airports as the airline tried to get them onto different flights.
Hundreds of flight attendants staged a sit-in outside the firm’s headquarters in Taipei overnight, protesting a new requirement that they report for work in Taoyuan—on the outskirts of Taipei—rather than downtown Songshan airport.
They say the measure was brought in “unilaterally.”
“[It] pressures us to work even more overtime and will seriously affect flight safety,” the Taoyuan Flight Attendants Union said in a statement on its Facebook page.
The union is also calling for other improvements to conditions, including double pay for working on national holidays.
The official strike started at midnight. Protesters continued to sit-in outside the CAL office Friday.
Both the president and the chairman of CAL were replaced on Thursday after tendering their resignations before the strike.
Ho Nuan-hsuan, who was officially approved by the board to be the new chairman Friday, made an immediate concession, agreeing to reverse the unpopular decision over where flight attendants should report to work.
“I promise to come up with a satisfactory response [to protesters’ demands]. Hopefully through the good will of the company, we can work together,” Ho told the strikers.
But the gesture failed to put an end to the sit-in in hot and humid Taipei, as protesters insisted that six other demands also be met.
“No outcome, no end to protest!” The protesters shouted.
A new round of negotiations will start at 4 p.m.
Ho was appointed by the transport ministry, which is CAL’s largest shareholder.
In a statement Friday, CAL urged the government to intervene to bring the strike to a “smooth end.”
It described the strike as an “unauthorized surprise attack” on the airline.
Tsai gave her thanks to the flight attendants during a short speech before her departure and vowed the government would defend their labor rights.
CAL’s vice president said Friday it was trying to get passengers onto other flights but that it was difficult in peak summer season.
Flights from the southern cities of Kaohsiung and Tainan were unaffected Friday.