Taipei, The transport ministry and labor ministry are working to reconcile different labor standards with the aim of resolving disputes between airlines and pilots over the issue of overwork, officials have said amid ongoing strike threats by China Airlines (CAL) and EVA Airways pilots.
Ever since the Pilots Taoyuan Union, which represents 70 percent of CAL's pilots and 50 percent of EVA Air's pilots, voted Aug. 7 in favor of a strike, Minister of Transportation and Communications Wu Hong-mo (???) has pledged several times to review the two sets of rules governing pilots' working hours.
Airlines in Taiwan follow two types of laws -- the Aircraft Flight Operation Regulations (AOR), which are aligned with the standard of the global aviation industry, and the Labor Standards Act, which applies to all employees in Taiwan.
Clark Lin (???), director of the Civil Aeronautics Administration's (CAA's) Flight Standards Division, told CNA that from a regulator's perspective, the AOR should outweigh the Labor Standards Act when labor issues for the aviation industry are discussed.
"Considering how differently the aviation sector operates from other industries, it makes more sense for the AOR to be the guiding principle," Lin said, adding that the AOR is designed under the International Civil Aviation Organization's (ICAO's) annex six, which specifies international standards and recommended practices in flight operations.
The biggest difference between the AOR and the Labor Standards Act, which is also the major contentious point between the pilots and the carriers, is how they regulate reasonable working hours, Lin said, stressing that this controversy must be tackled first.
For instance, under the AOR, when a two-member flight crew is assigned for an international flight, each of them can work for up to 14 consecutive hours for their flight duty period -- which starts when the crew reports for duty and finishes when the aircraft is parked.
However, the Labor Standards Act stipulates that working hours per day are topped at 12 for all workers.
The solution now is the act's article 84-1, which offers leeway for jobs "of special nature."
Under such circumstances, it says, workers may arrange their own working hours with their employers after their agreements are submitted to the local competent authorities for approval.
Although this means that the aviation industry can operate under the AOR, airlines said that in reality, they are constantly fined by the labor authorities when the union reports them over individual flight operations exceeding 12 hours due to factors out of their control, such as bad weather.
Imposing the Labor Standards Act on the industry could only lower Taiwanese airlines' competitiveness, the carriers argue.
But the union contends that it is simply asking for a more friendly working environment to which all workers are entitled.
Lee Hsin-yen (???), the union's chairwoman and an EVA Air pilot, said the pilots are looking forward to a looser schedule, and that airlines could allow for more rest time before and after specific flights that operate approximately for 12 hours or during red-eye hours.
Before a consensus is reached between the two sides and a revision of current laws, Lin said, the CAA should conduct monthly checks on flight schedules of each carrier to see if pilots are on the edge of overwork.
Under the AOR, a total for flight crew flight times may not exceed more than 120 hours during 30 consecutive days, and the CAA will check if pilots are assigned, regardless of if they do so voluntarily, close to that limit.
Experts agree that the authorities should come up with a clear standard regulating the working environment of the aviation industry, and that the AOR should offer better guidelines.
Tai Tso-min (???), an associate professor in the Department of Transportation and Communication Management Science at National Cheng Kung University, said the management policies currently adopted by CAL and EVA Air are generally aligned with those of the global aviation industry.
There should not be any concern as to flight safety as a result of overwork under the AOR, she said, adding that the nature of the aviation business should not be overlooked in the current labor-management negotiations.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel