Wed, Dec 24, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Union members protest over unpaid leave

POINTING FINGERS About 100 protesters attempted to break the line of police guarding the entrance to the CLA building, but backed down shortly afterwards

By Shelley Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

A man smashes sheets of glass bearing protest demands as hundreds of workers mobilized by various organizations protest against compulsory unpaid leave outside the Council of Labor Affairs in Taipei yesterday.

PHOTO: FANG PIN-CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

Several hundred angry union members gathered in front of the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) building yesterday to urge the council to penalize businesses that force employees to take unpaid leave.

Labor associations from all over Taiwan participated in the protest, including the National Federation of Independent Trade Unions (NAFITU), Tainan County’s Federation of Trade Unions, the Confederation of Taipei Trade Unions and the Youth Labor Unions, shouting slogans and holding placards reading: “Stop unpaid leave,” “Government, help businesses, Workers are losing their jobs,” “Help workers, stop unemployment,” “Bail-out fund should put workers first” and “Protect nationals, stop using foreign labor.”

The protesters demanded the council act against businesses that illegally force workers to take unpaid leave.

The consent of workers and unions must be required, the groups said. They also demanded that unpaid leave not be allowed to affect a worker’s labor insurance and other benefits

They also urged the council to subsidize individual workers, not businesses, when the workers’ unpaid leave resulted in salaries dipping below the minimum monthly wage of NT$17,280.

The council came under fire after it said that a worker may be paid below the minimum wage when on unpaid leave.

The council reversed that decision a day later, but so far has failed to provide satisfactory answers to union representatives, the group said.

On Friday, CLA Minister Jennifer Wang (王如玄) said that the council had been mulling whether and how to subsidize employees or businesses to ensure that workers who are on unpaid leave are not laid off because the company could not afford to pay even the minimum wage.

The council met with union representatives at the Legislative Yuan on Monday, but the meeting failed to reach any consensus.

The council has not made any official announcements on the issues raised, including providing subsidies during unpaid leave or making adjustments to quotas for foreign laborers.

One employee from Wintek Corporation (勝華科技) accused the company of violating the Labor Standards Law (勞工基準法) by laying off pregnant women. The employee said the company had also forced workers to sign a contract agreeing to take unpaid leave while still being required to work.

“Workers are vulnerable against businesses,” shouted Chu Wei-li (朱維立), president of NAFITU. “When a company tells its workers to sign a contract agreeing to unpaid leave, how can a worker refuse to sign?”

They demanded Wang come out and listen to them, but the council told them that Wang was at the legislature, and that CLA deputy minister Pan Shih-wei (潘世偉) was at a meeting in Beitou.

At one point, about 100 of the protesters attempted to break the line of police guarding the entrance to the CLA building and force their way in.

About 200 police officers were standing guard outside the building.

The angry protesters managed to push the police line against the glass doors, but the protesters backed down shortly afterwards.

Mao Chen-fei (毛振飛), chairman of the Confederation of Taoyuan Trade Unions and one of the people directing the protest, urged protesters not to use violence because “people from the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] would call us ‘violent’ ... Let’s not do anything that would give them a chance to make us look bad.

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