EVA Air and union's talks on Tuesday to focus on strike retaliation

EVA Air strike

EVA Air strike (CNA photo)

EVA Air and the Taoyuan Flight Attendants Union (TFAU) on Monday reaffirmed their stance on whether the flight attendants who left their position before the strike began on June 20 should be punished, as this and other issues involving alleged "strike retaliation" by the company is expected to dominate negotiations between the two sides on Tuesday.

The union has shown no signs of backing down over the controversy involving the flight attendants, and has accused the company of trying to retaliate against flight attendants who have participated in the strike.

"All our members had completed their duty and notified EVA Air about their intention to strike before 4 p.m.," TFAU Secretary-General Cheng Ya-ling (鄭雅菱) said, referring to the union's announcement at around 2 p.m. that day that "anyone signing in after 4 p.m. should not work (for EVA)."

According to the union, on the day the strike began, 12 cabin crew working on flight BR722 to Shanghai, six for BR871 to Hong Kong and two for BR180 to Osaka, as well as four employees receiving ground training were absent from their post when the strike began, but it insisted that these 24 flight attendants' actions were in line with the union's directions.

While EVA Air was fully aware that the flight attendants would not work after 4 p.m. and marked their work schedule with a strike code, the company changed its mind the next day and changed the code to absenteeism, the union said.

However, EVA Air had determined a different number of employees absent, saying there were 25 flight attendants who were not at their post -- 12 for BR722, six for BR871 and seven for ground training.

EVA Air also said when it asked the flight attendants between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. if they were going to strike, their answer was "no."

It said it was not until after 4 p.m. that the flight attendants for BR722 and BR871 surprised the management by taking part in the strike, leading to "passengers stranded at the boarding gate."

It said for flight BR722 for instance, a total of 12 flight attendants signed into work at 2:30 p.m. in Taipei, and after confirming their intention to work, the crew was taken into the airport for pre-flight work.

While the flight attendants should have boarded the plane by 3:30 p.m., they said at the gate that they were not sure about working and consulted the union.

The union gave them a nod, and the crew decided at 4:06 p.m. that they would not work for the flight whose boarding time was 4 p.m.

As a result of their last minute announcement, the flight was delayed and it was not until 7:29 p.m. that the plane took off, three hours late, after the company sent another crew to replace the striking workers, EVA Air said.

However, the union said that its members scheduled to work on that flight had told their supervisor at 3:30 p.m. that they would strike, with the company sending additional staff right afterwards.

If determined to be guilty of absenteeism, the flight attendants' year-end bonuses may be deducted and their chances of being promoted in the future will also be affected.

The contradictory comments from both sides will only add to difficulties in Tuesday's negotiation, the fourth one to be mediated by the government to try to end the strike -- which has cost EVA Air NT$2.1 billion (US$67.7 million) so far, with 1,091 international flights canceled as of Monday.

At the top of Tuesday's agenda was the issue of strike retaliation.

The company had said that it "will not punish any grassroots employees for going on strike if their action abided by the law."

The union had asked that the company "shall not seek compensation from its members, officials and those assisting with the strike."

On June 21, EVA sued the union, alleging that it illegally mobilized its flight attendants to go on strike and asked for a compensation of NT$34 million (US$1 million) per day from union leaders.

During the upcoming negotiations, both sides are likely to review another issue that caused the breakdown of their last meeting on June 29 -- whether EVA Air will withdraw a statement it issued on May 8.

At that time, the airline said if a strike hurt its profitability and caused financial losses, the company would freeze annual wage increases and suspend year-end bonus payments to all of its employees, and stop offering discount air fares for flight attendants who are striking and their families, for three years.

EVA said flight crew and ground staff who worked during the strike would not have their benefits withdrawn.

The union argued that EVA's announcement is another form of retaliation, and urged the management to "restore benefits its members were entitled to prior to the strike."

Regardless of the result of the negotiation, which is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, the union said it will stage a sit-in on Ketagalan Boulevard outside the Presidential Office between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. later in the day, to seek public support.