Thu, Jul 31, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Railway dispute flares up

MIND THE GAP The union that represents most railway workers is planning to protest plans to incorporate the administration to deal with persistent operating deficits

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) yesterday failed to dissuade the Taiwan Railway Labor Union (TRLU) from convening a massive members' conference on Sept. 11 that threatens to seriously disrupt rail traffic during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

The union is pressing ahead with plans to hold the conference on one of the year's most important holidays for family reunions because of its disagreements with the TRA over how to handle its NT$180 billion debt.

The union, which represents 14,500 out of the TRA's 15,000 workers, is particularly concerned about the TRA's plans to turn itself into an incorporated company by July 1 next year.

"It is necessary to overhaul the operations of the administration in order to solve its debt problem," TRLU Chairman Chang Wen-cheng (張文正) said yesterday. "The TRA should not seek to address the debt problem by incorporating itself."

Chang's remarks came in response to a TRA press conference that detailed its plan to become an incorporated company. It hoped to deter the TRLU's drive to get its members to attend the Sept. 11 conference.

"In any circumstances, union members should not take collective leave during the Mid-Autumn Festival. The move will cancel trains, cause inconvenience for passengers and draw blame from the public," the TRA said.

"The move will seriously damage the TRA's image and chances to revive. The members' conference will do no good to the administration or its workers," it continued.

The 115-year-old state-owned railway enterprise, with assets worth more than NT$600 billion, has been losing about NT$10 billion annually over the past few years.

The TRA said it hoped to "reasonably solve its financial burdens" through incorporating itself.

"Downsizing and restructuring are necessary steps for the TRA. Only by taking these steps can the TRA experience a rebirth and maintain sustainable operations," the TRA said.

The administration promised that its workers' welfare would be its primary concern during incorporation.

To deter union members from attending the conference, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) and the TRA have held 17 meetings with railway workers across the nation over the past two weeks.

In the meetings, the ministry and the TRA explained the plan to incorporate the TRA to railway workers.

Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Ling-san (林陵三) yesterday stressed that he and Huang Teh-chih (黃德治), director-general of the administration, held the same stance with the union members in terms of protecting the welfare of railway workers.

"We will take care of their welfare. We are a family," Lin said.

But the ministry and the TRA seem to be making little headway in persuading the union to relent.

"We won't change the plan to convene the members' conference. We will press ahead," Chang said.

Although the MOTC has proposed projects to ensure railway workers' welfare after the TRA is incorporated, Chang said, the Ministry of Finance and the Central Personnel Administration oppose the proposals.

"We feel insecure," Chang said.

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