China airline pilots accused of disrupting flights over labor grievances


SHANGHAI, China – Pilots disgruntled over labor issues disrupted 14 flights out of one Chinese city on Monday in an unusual display of defiance, state-run newspapers reported Thursday.

The China Eastern Airlines flights from the southwestern city of Kunming took off as expected but the pilots turned back midway, claiming adverse weather conditions though other airlines were landing at the destinations as usual, the Shanghai Morning Post and other reports said.

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In come cases the flights landed but then took off without allowing passengers to disembark, the reports said.

Calls to China Eastern’s Shanghai headquarters rang unanswered at midday Thursday. A staffer at the airline’s Kunming office, who gave the employee number 53029, said weather was to blame for the disrupted flights.

But other airlines have also seen problems. On March 14, 40 pilots for Shanghai Airlines called in sick, while newly founded Wuhan East Star Airline had 11 pilots ask for sick leave on March 28, state-run China Radio International reported.

Even passive organized labor actions are rarely reported in state-owned industries in China, which bans all unauthorized labor organizations or protests.

The China Radio International Report said pilots were angry over being required to sign 99-year contracts with state-owned airlines that call for them to pay their employers up to 2.1 million yuan (US$300,000;€192,000) in compensation if they quit.

Pilots have filed lawsuits challenging those rules, which are reportedly aimed at combating poaching by rival airlines amid a severe shortage of pilots, it said.

The report said China’s Civil Aviation Administration held an emergency meeting Tuesday, with officials threatening life bans for pilots found responsible for organizing strikes.