Jennifer Wang joins Chu’s ticket

COURTING CONTROVERSY?:Jennifer Wang was often the target of criticism when she headed the Council of Labor Affairs, especially over lawsuits it filed in 2012

By Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter

Thu, Nov 19, 2015 - Page 1

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Eric Chu (朱立倫) yesterday confirmed former Council of Labor Affairs minister Jennifer Wang (王如玄) as his running mate for the Jan. 16 presidential election.

Chu made the announcement at a news conference at the KMT headquarters in Taipei, while hundreds of people, including former freeway toll collectors, demonstrated outside.

Chu said Wang’s nomination was passed by the KMT Central Standing Committee at its meeting yesterday morning and then clasped hands with Wang and other prominent KMT members as they chanted “KMT winning.”

“Born into a worker’s family, Wang grew up in Changhua County and made her way to National Taiwan University’s law school before earning a masters and a doctorate at Fu Jen [Catholic] University and Beijing’s Renmin University of China respectively,” he said.

As a lawyer, Wang has been devoted to issues affecting women, grassroots workers and underprivileged people, Chu said.

She returned to her legal work after heading the council for four-and-a-half years, during which time her efforts on pensions, parental leave and the minimum wage were widely applauded, Chu said.

“Together, we can form administration centered on the economy. I will draw upon my financial expertise and work to further peaceful cross-strait ties, while Wang can ensure the economic development achieved by the government is also felt by grassroots workers,” he said.

Wang said that she had struggled over accepting Chu’s offer because joining an election campaign would be a challenging task.

“However, after seeing the many wonderful people and individuals needing care in Taiwan, I believe they deserve better treatment. That is why I have decided to roll up my sleeves and join the race, even if it means making some sacrifices,” she said.

As for the criticism against her handling of laid-off workers — mainly from textile and electronic manufacturers that closed down in the 1990s — Wang said their cases had stayed on her mind even after she resigned from the council.

“I had no other choice but to do what I did... I am a lawyer and I know the law. It was [Kaohsiung Mayor] Chen Chu (陳菊) [of the Democratic Progressive Party] who filed the first round of lawsuits against them when she served as the council’s minister. With a verdict in favor of the government [from those lawsuits] and the approaching expiration of the 15-year statute of limitations for the case, I had to take action,” she said, referring to lawsuits she filed in early 2012 against laid-off workers who had not repaid the loans provided by the council in 1997 in lieu of layoff and retirement payments owed by their employers.

Those lawsuits sparked a series of protests, including a demonstration in February 2013 that saw protesters lying down on the rails at Taipei Railway Station.

Wang rejected accusations that she initiated an unpaid leave system, saying that the system existed during Chen’s tenure and that Wang was the one who tried to ensure employees on unpaid leave receive a monthly salary equal to the minimum wage.

Asked whether she plans to join the KMT, Wang said she would stick to her principle of being non-partisan because she is tired of the divisions between the pan-blue and pan-green camps.

A former president of the Awakening Foundation and a member of the Executive Yuan’s Women’s Right Committee, Wang has been a stanch advocate of gender equality in the workplace and a voice against domestic violence and sexual harassment in the workplace.

However, her time on the council — May 2008 and September 2012 — often saw her embroiled in controversies, including some triggered by her remarks.

When several labor groups criticized the council in December 2008 over its decision to allow companies to force workers to take unpaid leave.

Wang said at the time that workers who found themselves in financial difficulties as a result should just apply for a low-income household subsidy.

After the government implemented the “22K policy” for young people in 2009 — subsidizing companies that hired new graduates with a monthly wage of NT$22,000 — a policy that drew complaints that it dragged down starting salaries, Wang said in an April 2010 interview that “were it not for the policy, many would not even get a dime.”

In 2013, Wang served as one of the defense attorneys for former prosecutor-general Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘), who was accused of leaking classified information related to an ongoing investigation in connection with an investigation into alleged improper influence by Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平).

Asked for comment on Jennifer Wang’s nomination, the speaker said he would not find it awkward to interact with her because she had just been doing her job as a lawyer.

“I do not find any problem in that,” he said.

However, Kaohsiung Deputy Mayor Hsu Li-ming (許立明) was more critical.

He criticized Jennifer Wang over accusations she tried to shift the blame for lawsuits against laid-off workers to Chen, saying Chen had not tried to make those workers who received loans repay them.

Jennifer Wang also legitimized the unpaid leave system when she headed the labor council, Hsu said.

Additional reporting by Alison Hsiao