The Council of Labor Affairs invited the groups that launched a demonstration on Labor Day to a seminar on June 11 and June 12 to try to reach a consensus on their demands.
The council’s move to start a dialogue with disadvantaged workers deserves encouragement.
The protesters’ demands included strengthening the power of labor unions, implementing democratic practices in the workplace, banning reckless dismissals, banning outsourcing of workers, creating stable employment and reforming social security.
The labor groups’ message was clear. These problems have existed for years, and as the unemployment rate continues to surge, they are coming to the fore again.
For example, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), the world’s largest chipmaker, dismissed hundreds of employees earlier this year, in the process forcing them to sign a letter of resignation.
Luckily, taking a birds-eye view of society, TSMC chairman Morris Chang (張忠謀) reconsidered the decision out of concern for these disadvantaged workers and did a U-turn, rehiring them.
Chang’s decision to deal with the company’s mistake by rehiring the workers derived from concern for unity and dignity.
There is neither a labor union nor a mechanism for democratic industrial practices at TSMC, so dissenting voices could not be heard in decision-making processes.
After the workers were fired, they quickly contacted each other, formed an association and set up a blog.
With support and assistance from across the community, they displayed unity and safeguarded their rights, thus forcing the company to change its attitude.
These workers had contracts, yet were dismissed by TSMC management.
“Informal workers” — workers who do not have contracts, benefits, protections or representation — are the most disadvantaged category of employee, so the question arises as to how they might have been treated in a similar situation.
The Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics’ latest study shows that the nation’s 650,000 informal workers account for 6.24 percent of the workforce.
But there may be a gap between statistics and the reality — not to mention that 20 percent of newly created jobs that are also informal.
Statistics from 2006 show that Taiwan’s “dispatched workers” account for 41 percent of workers in public enterprises and 7.9 percent in the private sector. An outsourced cleaner doing a 13-hour shift from 6am to 7pm will only make US$10,000 a month.
But the salary of a part-time worker is about 47.6 percent of the salary of a full-time worker, with the part-timer having no labor or health insurance or other basic protections such as a retirement pension and work safety coverage. So how should we deal with such informal workers?
Perhaps Taiwan can learn from Chang by starting from a standpoint of human dignity in workplace relations while focusing our thinking on the International Labor Organization’s concept of “decent work” to build a system of legal protections for disadvantaged workers.
In this way, these workers would be able to reclaim their professional dignity.
Lee Ying-yuan is the deputy commissioner of Yunlin County.
TRANSLATED BY EDDY CHANG
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