China Airlines flight attendant Steven Chang, center, has his head shaved yesterday during a news conference outside the company’s offices in Taipei to protest being grounded by the airline — along with four other employees — for their actions at a protest on Thursday last week at the same location.
Photo: Liao Chen-huei
China Airlines’ (CAL) decision this week to remove several union representatives from flight duties for speaking at a demonstration last week has sparked fury among the public.
As of press time last night, 16,000 netizens had signed an online petition to boycott the airline until the decision is revoked, while a petition launched by overseas Taiwanese students calling for a boycott of CAL for Lunar New Year trips back to Taiwan had drawn 400 supporters.
The labor unions of four airlines operating in Hong Kong — Cathay Pacific, Dragon Air, British Airways and Jardine Aviation — have expressed solidarity with the China Airline employees.
CAL grounded four flight attendants — Betty Hung (洪蓓蒂), Bridgit Su (蘇盈蓉), Steven Chang (張書元) and Anderson Shen (沈家源) — as well as Taoyuan Pilot’s Union president Yang Kuang-hai (楊光海) for their “emotional behavior” at a protest outside the airline’s office in downtown Taipei on Thursday last week, which the company said went against the “professional conduct” expected of its flight personnel.
The protest, which drew more than 1,000 people, was against the airline’s reduction in employee year-end bonuses.
CAL said the five would be removed from flight duties for one month, but would be paid their monthly salaries.
However, labor activists said depriving the employees of their full flight bonuses and travel reimbursements meant they would actually lose pay.
At a news conference outside the company’s offices in Taipei yesterday, Chang had his head shaved to protest what he said was “lawless and outrageous” punishment that violated the Labor Union Act (工會法).
He said the other three flight attendants have been barred from taking leave and ordered to take anger-management courses.
“They can stop me from flying, but they cannot stop my heart from soaring,” Chang said, saying that it was a union representative’s responsibility to “speak the truth” about the company’s “inept managerial decisions” and overworking of its employees.
Other CAL employees have protested the company’s decision, with many flight attendants attaching yellow ribbons to their luggage as a sign of support for their grounded colleagues.
The Taoyuan Pilot’s Union secretariat said Yang has been kept alone since last week’s demonstration and reportedly had to punch a time clock each time he wanted to go to a restroom.
The Greater Taoyuan Department of Labor said in a statement that China Airlines was fined a total of NT$2,290,000 (US$72,800) for repeated violations of working hour limits last year, adding that labor officials would aid the five employees in negotiations with airline.
A Taiwanese graduate student in Berlin surnamed Cheng (鄭), who helped launch the overseas petition, said CAL’s negligence of its employees’ working conditions prompted questions about its flight security.
He said the petition had attracted support from Taiwanese students in many countries as well as other overseas Taiwanese.