Thu, Oct 23, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Ministry makes offer to avert railway strike

LABOR UNREST The transport ministry said it would reinstate overtime pay and raise travel expenses to placate the rail union, which is planning a strike next year

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER

In an attempt to avoid a seven-day railway strike during the Lunar New Year holiday next year, the government yesterday presented the Taiwan Railway Labor Union with a peace offering of new benefits.

Since the union staged a controversial member's conference that threatened to disrupt train services during the Mid-Autumn Festival last month, the Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) has been under pressure to address the union's grievances.

During the conference, the union voted to strike during the Lunar New Year if its demands were not met.

"We've settled two out of three of the points of contention," Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Ling-san (林陵三) told legislators yesterday. "The issues of overtime pay and travel subsidization have already been settled. We're still working on bonuses given to train drivers with good safety records."

"I am confident that all three points of contention can be resolved before the Lunar New Year. There will be no strike," Lin said.

The ministry has agreed to reinstate overtime pay that was abolished in the 1980s so that employees are compensated when they must wait to be relieved at the end of their eight-hour shifts. Subsidies for expenses, such as accommodation and food for train drivers stranded away from their hometowns, will be raised by 50 percent, the ministry said.

"Although the Council of Labor Affairs has yet to approve the proposed changes, the ministry is prepared to go through with the said employment benefits," Lin said.

However, the union said that despite Lin's confidence, it had yet to approve the ministry's proposals.

Union secretary-general Chen Han-ching (陳漢卿) said that Lin's promises cut a few corners and neglected the union's main concerns.

Last month's strike vote included only issues of employment benefits. Should the union and the government agree on these issues, the union would be breaking the Labor Union Law (工會法) if it went ahead with the strike next year. However, it may reject the government's offer and continue with the strike to protest a number of other issues.

The union's main goal is to get a public guarantee that the TRA's privatization will be halted. It also wants the rights and benefits of current and retired employees to be protected; the ministry to take on the railway administration's debts resulting from loss-making stations and the cost of disability discount tickets and infrastructure maintenance; and the Taiwan Railway Administration Organic Law (台鐵組織條例) to be renewed by the end of the year.

"The government's offer is a very small one," Chen said. "We could easily step away from it. We want to talk to the ministry about all of our requests, but they only want to discuss the issues of employment benefits."

Responding to Chen's accusation, TRA Deputy Director-General Hsu Ta-wen (徐達文) said that employment benefits were the only issues under the TRA's control.

"We can't do anything about the other requests as they entail the cooperation of other governmental bodies," Hsu said.

While Chen refused to say whether the union planned to accept Lin's offer, he said that the union's main objective was to protect the future of the TRA.

Pointing to what he called a legal flaw, Chen admitted that if a consensus were reached over employment benefits, it would be illegal for the union to strike.

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