Marching to The Internationale, workers’ unions and other groups took to the streets of Taipei yesterday for the “Labor Day Anti--Poverty Parade” and used the occasion to convey their dissatisfaction with working conditions to the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
Labor activists said a number of factors, including deteriorating work environments in a wide range of industries and an inadequate social security system, had contributed to increased worker exploitation and unfair treatment by employers.
The parade, which drew an estimated 3,000 protesters, started at the old Songshan Tobacco Plant, stopped to regroup and demonstrate in front of The Palace (帝寶), then proceeded onto Ketagalan Boulevard, where the marchers reiterated their four main slogans — anti--poverty, anti-overwork, equality and tax reform.
Workers’ unions also lamented the fact that the minimum wage has been raised once since 2007, adding that they would not accept anything less than NT$22,115 a month. The minimum wage was raised by NT$600 last year, bringing it to NT$17,880 a month.
In light of the 3 percent raise for civil servants, military personnel and public school teachers that was announced last month, the trade unions and workers said they would ask for an increase to the minimum wage that was more than 3 percent.
Taiwan Labor Front secretary-general Son Yu-lian (孫友聯) said the rising cost of education often forced students from poor households to take out loans just to complete their degrees, which meant they were indebted even before they entered the job market.
With more young people in debt, these people might be poor all their lives, Son said, adding that the government, no matter which political party won the presidential election next year, cannot avoid addressing this problem.
Son also called on participants at the parade to “punish” the Ma administration with their vote next year should his government fail to provide a satisfactory response to their demands.
While passing in front of The Palace — one of the most expensive residential complexes in the city — participants in the parade all laid down on the ground and pointed their signs with the slogan “anti-poverty” skywards — a move aimed at highlighting the growing wealth gap in Taiwan.
Pointing at The Palace, a spokesperson said they were not protesting against the wealthy, but rather the government, because it was government policies that have allowed some people to live in expensive penthouses, while others cannot even afford a simple house.
Participants called on the government to consider reforming the tax system so that it would be less unfair to ordinary people.
Labor activists said regulations had loopholes that allowed large corporations and wealthy people — especially investors in the stock and real-estate markets — to evade taxes, while ordinary people were left to pay every last penny in taxes.
Son said the Ma administration’s Selective Goods and Services Sales Tax Act (特種貨物及勞務稅條例) would not result in higher wages for ordinary people and would fail to make the wealthy pay more taxes.
Regarding demands by workers’ and trade unions to reign in the problem of excessive work hours, the Council of Labor Affairs said it would cut the number of work hours to 80 a week as per the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法).