Post-Strike Impasses Loom Ahead
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 27, 2016
Executive Summary: Ho Nuan-hsuan, the new chairman of China Airlines has caved in. China Airlines flight attendants have announced an end to their strike, which grounded hundreds of flights and canceled tens of thousands of trips. The flight attendants strike was a roaring success. Ho Nuan-hsuan made substantial concessions, but even more importantly, union solidarity and a successful strategy contributed to their victory. Will the CAL strike become a model for other collective bargaining by workers in other public enterprises? That will be something worth observing. Workers at Mandarin Airlines have already threatened to follow suit.
Full Text Below:
Ho Nuan-hsuan, the new chairman of China Airlines has caved in. China Airlines flight attendants have announced an end to their strike, which grounded hundreds of flights and canceled tens of thousands of trips. The flight attendants strike was a roaring success. Ho Nuan-hsuan made substantial concessions, but even more importantly, union solidarity and a successful strategy contributed to their victory. Will the CAL strike become a model for other collective bargaining by workers in other public enterprises? That will be something worth observing. Workers at Mandarin Airlines have already threatened to follow suit.
The strike was not a "win-win" proposition. First, Ho Nuan-Hsuan yielded to all of the union's demands. All he asked for was an early end to the strike. He was not a particularly skillful negotiator. He gave the union more than it demanded. He showed nothing bu good will. Second, after the flight attendants announced the end of the strike, why didn't they immediately start work the next day? Why did they give themselves another day off, and leave tens of thousands of passengers stranded for one more day? They got what they wanted, then forgot all about the passengers. That hardly seems responsible. Third, the strike not only sacrificed the interests of the passengers, it redirected passenger frustration toward the ground crew, who found themselves on the receiving end of passenger anger. The flight attendants won big. But their colleagues paid the price. The flight attendants need to acknowledge this, and not treat the matter lightly.
In short, this flight attendants strike gained widespread public support because ruling party change involved management level appointments, therefore the strikers readily secured preferential terms. That is something worth celebrating. But flight attendants must now win passengers' respect during their daily routine. They must embody the spirit of customer service. Otherwise, the flight attendants' strike victory will not make China Airlines more competitive. What will happen to them if passengers lose confidence in China Airlines due to the strike, and cease booking flights? Employees must be prudent. They cannot assume that such problems affect only employers.
A re-examination of the recent strike and its causes reveals several important structural problems that must be addressed. The first problem is China Airlines' inept crisis management. Airline strikes affect travel plans for tens of thousands of people, as well as confidence in the airline's flight schedules. Therefore if a strike or other factor leads to changes in the flight schedule, the airline must inform passengers as soon as possible. It must offer alternative flight options, and emergency contacts. If it cannot offer alternatives, it must provide compensation. But China Airlines management response was slow. Many passengers reported that China Airlines provided a mere 100 USD in compensation, and failed to offer a clear explanation of what happened. This may have been because both the chairman and general manager were replaced at the same time. But if the airline's system was sound, the results would not have been so haphazard. This is a management defect that must be addressed.
The second problem that must be addressed is the government's inept personnel appointments. The flight attendants strike was described as a "labor dispute". That is inaccurate. Flight attendants may be labor, but not the CAL board of directors and general manager are not “management”. They are "officials". Personnel appointments and company policy for quasi-public enterprises are determined by government officials. These officials must defer to their superiors, but not to investors, consumers, or lenders. The decision to replace the chairman and general manager was made by Premier Lin Chuan. The "Company Law" expressly provides that "the board of directors choose the general manager". But this provision was totally ignored. This sort of administrative indifference to the rules is one of the reasons why public companies are inefficient, and their crisis management clueless.
The third problem that must be addressed is one of politics vs. professionalism. Personnel appointments for China Airlines, as well as for other publicly-owned or state-owned enterprises, have long been matters of political patronage. Professionalism is often the victim. Take Ho Nuan-hsuan, for example. He is qualified in transportation. But his expertise is in road transport rather than aviation. His emergency appointment as chairman drew largely on his experience in dealing with the Taiwan Railway Administration and the ROC Post Office workers protest, rather than any expertise in aviation. In other words, when faced with a unexpected labor strike and long-term aviation industry management reorganization, the new government chose to address the short-term crisis, and ignored the problem of long-term management and airline market positioning. No wonder Ho Nuan-hsuan immediately yielded to the flight attendants' seven demands. But this was mere politics. Will Ho Nuan-hsuan be as professional when dealing with China Airlines long-term operational efficiency and market competitiveness?
The CAL strike has ended. The flight attendants won a major victory. But they must not forget how many innocent people had to suffer, and how many impasses lie ahead in the dark.
2016-06-27 03:00 聯合報 聯合報社論