Thousands of people from workers’ unions and labor groups took to the streets in Taipei yesterday, demanding that the government protect workers’ rights.
Initiated by the National Federation of Independent Trade Unions (NAFITU), workers organized by more than a dozen groups from across the country arrived at Taipei’s Ximending (西門町) at noon yesterday and headed out to the streets holding signs bearing their demands, such as “basic guarantees,” “uncut payment” and “against the free-trade island [policy] and worsening labor conditions.”
The NAFITU said President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had spoken about the government’s plan for leading the nation to become a “free-trade island,” increasing collaboration between industry and schools and reforming the labor insurance annuity scheme in his speech on New Year’s Day.
However, these policies should not be achieved by sacrificing the working conditions in Taiwan — such as reforming labor insurance by cutting the basic payments for retired workers, or cooperating with the business sector to turn students into cheap labor for companies, it said, adding that the march aimed to make it clear to the president that workers will not accept reforms that only benefit corporations.
NAFITU president Chu Wei-li (朱維立) said the protest appealed for five demands: not cutting the labor insurance annuity payment, basic guarantees for retirement, government budget appropriation to supplement the Labor Insurance Fund if it fails to provide basic guaranteed payments, not loosening labor regulations for a free economic demonstration zone and amending Article 28 of the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法).
The groups said that the minimum monthly retirement payment from the labor insurance annuity is currently only NT$5,183 after working for 15 years and NT$8,733 after working for 30 years, and an average worker receives only about NT$13,000 — all lower than the government’s data from last year, which showed the average living expenses in Taiwan total about NT$18,465 a month.
They urged the government not to cut the labor insurance annuity payment, which is already not enough to maintain average living standards, and said it should guarantee a basic living by supplementing the payment with government funding or from taxes imposed on employers and company owners.
Following the march, the protesters converged in front of the Presidential Office on Ketagalan Boulevard, where the event organizers staged a skit and delivered speeches. The demonstration ended peacefully after the protesters, having been given two warnings by the police that they were violating the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法), threw tomatoes and eggs toward the Presidential Office, from which they were separated by barricades and police.
“We have not seen the government announce policies protecting workers’ rights, nor any sincerity toward workers,” Taoyuan International Airport Services Union standing director Yang Shao-yung (楊少庸) said, adding that despite the large number of protesters, the government failed to even send out an official to meet with them.
“Today we used only tomatoes to express our anger and dissatisfaction. Further demonstrations on larger scales may be held in the future,” he said.