The Taipei High Administrative Court yesterday said that 12 former factory workers are not obligated to return millions of dollars borrowed from the government.
Yesterday’s ruling was for five cases — the first among a total of 294 administrative suits brought against 548 laid-off workers in 2012 by the then-Council of Labor Affairs, now the Ministry of Labor, asking them to repay loans the government gave them in lieu of retirement payouts.
The ministry can still appeal the rulings with the Supreme Administrative Court.
The Taipei High Administrative Court said the loans were in effect compensation to the laid-off workers, and the government failed to pursue the matter before the deadline in January 2006.
The workers — most of whom are more than 60 years old — were among hundreds laid off in the 1990s without any compensation from their respective employers.
To assist these workers, the government at the time agreed to give them loans that had to be repaid only after they had found new jobs. However, in 2012, the workers started receiving notices from the council asking them to pay back the loans, including interest and late fees.
The notices sparked a series of protests, with labor rights advocates arguing that the government should not ask the former employees to repay the loans because the council was party to blame for failing to ensure that the employers had sufficient funds for their staff’s retirement payouts.
The laid-off workers and labor rights activists subsequently formed a national laid-off labor alliance which had launched a series of protests against the government.
Upon hearing the ruling, Tseng Wei-kai (曾威凱), an attorney for the laid-off workers, said: “We are pleased, but we do not feel happy. We hope the Ministry of Labor will withdraw all lawsuits against the workers. Do not ask the laid-off workers to repay the money anymore.”
“This farce has gone on long enough. The ministry should put an end to it,” he added.
Meanwhile, the ministry said it would wait until it receives a copy of the ruling before deciding what to do next.
“The ministry has filed a total of 209 cases with the Taipei High Administrative Court, and today, the court only ruled on the first few cases,” Minister of Labor Pan Shih-wei (潘世偉) said during a question-and-answer session in the legislature. “We respect the ruling, but we have to wait until we receive the written verdict to be able to review it and decided whether we should file an appeal.”
Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said the court ruling yesterday does not cover all cases “because the court still has to carefully examine all the lawsuits one by one.”
He also defended the ministry’s decision to sue, saying it was a necessary step and the ministry acted in accordance with the law.
“I will leave it to the ministry to decide whether to appeal once it has received the written verdict,” Jiang said.
Additional reporting by CNA