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May Day in Taiwan splashed with rain, protest marches
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-05-01 05:18 PM
The main focus in protests and demonstrations on Thursday was on labor rights, with a galaxy of labor organizations and activists gathered on Ketagalan Boulevard to express their concern over labor laws in Taiwan. Garbed in rain gear under lowering skies, a crowd estimated in the tens of thousands carried placards and chanted slogans behind the leader of this year’s march, Taipei Industrial Union president Chiang Wan-chin. They set out at 2pm for the offices of the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) where they presented a petition bearing six basic demands regarding labor and the rights of workers.

The list of six joint demands included better working conditions and protection of workers' livelihood; opposition to excessive free trade regulations and resistance to flexible use of labor; complete enforcement of the three basic labor rights and protection of trade union autonomy; guarantees of a dignified old age with full retirement benefits; protection of people’s properties and resistance to improper financial policies; and finally, a halt in the release of public stocks and opposition to the privatization of state-owned enterprises.

Informed in advance of the protest march’s objectives, the CLA was ready with an item-for-item response to the demands of the protesters. The council’s responses were as follows.

Regarding better working conditions and shorter hours and protection of worker’s livelihood, the CLA noted that it functions in response to overall economic and social conditions, constantly monitoring the levels of basic wages to protect the basic livelihood of marginal workers. The council actively works to keep working hours at reasonable levels and guarantee meaningful weekends for as many workers as possible. The CLA will issue a plan for adjusting statutory working hours at the end of this year and is developing a draft to amend relevant laws next year. These amendments will address holidays, national holidays, overtime, rest periods and other labor-related issues.

In the area of the Labor Standards Law, the council said it conducts class-by-class reviews of workers covered by the law to make sure that everyone who should be included is covered. In addition, the CLA plays close attention to ensure workplace safety standards are at international standards. Employers are frequently reminded of their obligation to observe applicable laws and regulations.

Addressing the demands opposing excessive free trade regulations and flexible use of labor, the CLA noted that it favors widening the scope of international trade to avoid overdependence on trade and interaction with China. As far as layoffs and other potential abuses are concerned, the council is currently developing a draft law to protect workers’ rights in such cases.

The council pointed out that labor laws apply to workers both inside and outside of free economic pilot zones and emphasized that the pilot zones are not aimed primarily at providing employment opportunities for workers from outside of Taiwan. As for trade liberalization and the impact of the Cross-strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) on the job market, the council maintains a website and telephone hot line to provide information and advice on issues regarding the council’s activities, ECFA and other related matters.

In the area of full labor rights and protection of trade union autonomy, the council noted that in Taiwan labor unions enjoy independent operation based on the principle of collective labor rights, and government agencies are on the alert to protect trade unions against suppression and persecution. The CLA has set up an inquiry panel to look into the matter of strike prohibitions applying to teachers and will offer recommendations for amending relevant laws in the context of the overall wishes of the public.

In addition, the CLA has conducted a review of standard operations for public sector unions with due consideration for international practices, and will present suggestions for remedies based on its studies.

The council noted that it fully endorses the idea of guarantees of a dignified old age with full retirement benefits. The Executive Yuan has charged relevant agencies and units with the task of developing an annual appropriation budget plan to inject funds as needed, and the CLA has sent draft amendments to the Labor Pension Law to the Legislative Yuan for further action.

In addition, the council has developed suggestions for other amendments of the Labor Standards Law regarding priorities and protections for workers in pension fund payments and payouts. These have been submitted to the Executive Yuan for review. The CLA is also promoting investment programs that offer participants in the pension fund more choices when they retire as well as more tax incentives and more options for early retirement that will improve pension incomes. At the same time, the rights of workers who choose not to participate in investment plans will not be affected.

In the areas of protection of people’s properties and resistance to improper financial policies as well as limits on the release of public stocks and opposition to the privatization of state-owned enterprises, the council said that in order to minimize uncertainty in companies facing privatization, the government should encourage enterprises to guarantee work placement opportunities and uphold working conditions in mergers and acquisitions. Any benefits gained by the corporations should not come at the expense of employees. The council promised that if needed it will provide assistance for employees who encounter difficulties in such corporate moves.

The CLA added that it is working to see that instruction on the terms and conditions related to laborers and labor laws is made a part of the national education curriculum. The council explained that one aspect of globalization is a growing emphasis on employment equity and occupational ethics. As a part of this the CLA is actively promoting labor education programs and researching a Draft Labor Education Law that will incorporate concepts related to the dignity of labor and other worker-related rights in school curricula.

Early discussions on the six demands presented by the marchers Thursday aroused controversy over the inclusion of demands addressing CSSTA, with some labor rights groups threatening to withdraw from the march if the language was retained. The phrasing was revised to cover demands opposing economic liberalization, but sections on objections to free economic pilot zones were retained.

Chiang delivered a speech saying that like students in the Sunflower movement, workers have a message for the government, political parties and capitalists. He noted that workers everywhere have followed the recent protests closely, and they have their own concerns to express. Labor is extremely dissatisfied with corruption among capitalists and officials who conspire to ruin the future of Taiwan with policies that widen the gap between rich and poor, crush the hopes of younger generations, allow long working hours – whether legally or illegally – and hold salaries and wages to levels comparable to those of 16 years ago. He noted that these days many people are finding it impossible to buy a house or finance their children’s education.

Chiang criticized economic liberalization and the promotion of policies such as government-owned free economic pilot zones as well as CSSTA, saying they are nothing more than tax cuts that benefit capitalists and do little to address the problem of unfair economic and social distribution. Such schemes, he said, serve the interests of the top 1% of society at the expense of the remaining 99%.

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