Tue, Mar 26, 2002 - Page 2 News List

Keelung workers protest against new Taipei port


Unemployed workers from the port of Keelung and members of a container transport union yesterday protested to the Ministry of Transportation and Commun-ications (MOTC) against the imminent establishment of Taipei Port as a container port, saying the project will jeopardize the jobs of employees at other ports.

About 50 protesters, including unemployed workers and members of the Taiwan Federation of Container and Teamster Unions protested in front of the MOTC to ask the ministry to re-evaluate the country's harbor policy, which has been in place since 1997.

Activists called on the government to postpone the Taipei Port project, due to be completed in 2005, and to manage Taiwan's container terminals in accordance with the volume of containers.

"The container transport business declined from 220,000 TEU [twenty-foot equivalent units, the unit of measurement for containers] in 1995 to 180,000 in Keelung last year," said Huang Shiao-ling (黃小陵), one of the activists from the union.

"We are afraid that the Taipei Port will just worsen the already severe competition among the existing ports," he said.

Starting in 1998, many port workers lost their jobs after the ministry privatized all of Taiwan's harbors.

The new, private companies laid off workers and reduced the wages of those who they retained.

"There were about 3,000 port workers two years ago, but the number of workers has fallen to 800 because of privatization and the sluggish economy," said Kuo Ching-jiun, head of the Union for Protecting Unemployed Workers, based in Keelung.

Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Lin-san (林陵三), however, later sought to reassure port workers as he answered reporters' questions at the Legislative Yuan.

"The container transport business will recover within years since the economy in Taiwan is reviving," he said.

Construction work on Taipei Port began in 1997. The port is located in Tamsui, Taipei County and is intended to be a multi-purpose port.

Many shipping companies, including China Ocean Shipping Co, the Evergreen Marine Corporation, Yangming Marine Transport and Wan Hai Lines, have expressed optimism about the benefits that the port will bring to Taiwan.

An official from the MOTC's department of navigation and aviation, who declined to be identified, said the government's policy has existed for a long time and "won't change because of labor protests."

He added that the role of Taipei Port will be to support that of Keelung -- and workers from Keelung have no need to worry about their jobs.

"We believe Taipei Port will stimulate the country's economy," he added.

Kuo Tu-cheng (郭塗城), a professor from National Taiwan Ocean University (海洋大學), agreed that Taipei Port will benefit the nation.

"We need Taipei Port to handle more containers, especially when Keelung Port can't handle the volume," Kuo said.

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