There were two large-scale labor protests this month against unpaid salaries and unreasonable layoffs, and the harsh work environment those workers have been facing make us wonder what the government has done to protect workers’ rights.
Two weeks ago, hundreds of Hualong Textile Co employees launched a four-day march to protest against salary and pension cuts and layoff payouts, walking from Miaoli County’s Toufen Township (頭份) to Ketegalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office and asked President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration for help. Before starting their march, the employees participated in a sit-in for more than 70 days in Miaoli County, where they received no response from their employer or the government.
Similarly, employees of RPTI International, a power systems company that was created by the Executive Yuan’s Veterans’ Affairs Commission (VAC), launched a strike last week to protest unpaid salaries and missing retirement payouts. The government-funded company, which suffered a financial crisis in 2004, is NT$4 billion (US$133 million) in debt and owes employees more than NT$17 million in back salaries and retirement payouts. The company’s chairman and general manager, both appointed by the VAC, resigned earlier this year. The board of directors declared the company bankrupt this month, leaving hundreds of workers in dire straits.
And what has our government done in response to the protesters’ call for government assistance? During the Hualong Textile protest at the Presidential Office, Ma failed to meet the protesters or make any comments. Presidential Office Deputy Secretary-General Hsiung Kuang-hua (熊光華) said Ma acknowledged the workers’ situation, then referred their petition to the Council of Labor Affairs.
The council has also been evasive about the issue, with Council of Labor Affairs Minister Jennifer Wang (王如玄), a former activist for gender equality, failing to keep her promise to meet with labor representatives. The VAC, when confronted by RPTI employees in a protest in front of the Executive Yuan, said that with the company’s bankruptcy awaiting government approval, there is little it can do to help the workers.
Hualong Textile’s labor union voted last week to reject a proposal to cut its retirement pension from 80 percent of the average pay to 50 percent, and end months of strike. However, time could be on the company’s side, given the government’s inaction and the financial burden on the protesting workers.
In sharp contrast to the distress of the workers, the owners of the Hualong Group, fugitive tycoon Wong Da-ming (翁大銘) and his two brothers, fled overseas, leaving the group in debt while they live in the lap of luxury. The chairman and managers of RPTI also walked away with big checks while leaving the company in deep debt, and were never held responsible for their poor management.
In recent years, there have been numerous similar incidents: Workers are owed payments; employers declare bankruptcy; employees are left helpless and the authorities say that although they are trying to help the workers, but there is not much they can do. Protecting the rights of workers is the government’s responsibility, but the Ma administration, while touting its efforts to create a better economic environment for investors and businesses, has failed to improve the work environment.
It is important to give more help to small and medium-sized businesses and create more jobs. However, it is equally crucial to defend the rights of workers against bankruptcy fraud and poor working conditions. The Ma administration should listen to the workers’ demands and help with their negotiations with the employers. It should also establish protective mechanisms and regulations that can better protect the interests of workers.
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