Wed, Oct 08, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Blind people press massage rights

EMPLOYMENT Following a scandal involving the minister of the interior, blind groups have been lobbying politicians to protect their privileged position in the massage industry

By Debby Wu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Blind groups struggling to protect their prime position in the massage industry courted political parties yesterday but refused to confront their sighted counterparts at a public hearing.

Several groups for the blind, including the Cultural and Educational Foundation for the Blind (愛盲文教基金會) and The Blind Massage Health Center (愛盲護康按摩中心), visited the People First Party (PFP) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislative caucuses to voice concerns over sighted masseurs and masseuses illegally providing services.

But they turned down an invitation to join a public hearing held by DPP Legislator Chang Chin-fang (張清芳) regarding the massage industry.

The issue of whether sighted people should be allowed to work in the massage industry became a hot topic after Minister of the Interior Yu Cheng-hsien (余政憲) admitted last month that he had received massages from two sighted masseuses.

Under Article 37 of the Disabled Protection Law (身心障礙者保護法), which was passed in 1997, only visually impaired people can obtain licenses to practice as masseurs. Sighted people can only practice massage as part of medical treatment.

Nevertheless, tens of thou-sands of sighted people provide massages.

Yu, whose ministry oversees the welfare of disadvantaged groups, was reprimanded by Premier Yu Shyi-kun last week for visiting the illegal masseuses.

But blind groups were unsatisfied and urged the government to crack down on the industry's illegal workers.

"Massage is the job most blind people depend on to make a living, so we hope that legislators can support us on this," said Cheng Lung-shui (鄭龍水), chairman of the Cultural and Educational Foundation for the Blind.

At the public hearing, representatives of sighted masseurs and masseuses urged legislators to consider their working rights.

"A lot of the sighted massage-industry workers are middle-aged women who are often economically disadvantaged and just want a proper job. Compared with the over 2,000 licensed blind masseurs, there are more than 100,000 sighted masseurs in the industry. Should the government make them all unemployed?" said Lin Chia-ching (林家慶), proprietor of Kai-yueh Health Plaza.

Academics at the public hearing also argued that Article 37 of the law contravened Article 15 of the Constitution, which says that people should be guaranteed the right to work. They said that certain work should not be reserved for certain people.

But the groups for the blind later said that the experts should not forget that the same article also guarantees people the right to a livelihood.

"We are not only talking about the work rights of the sighted, but also the existence of rights for the blind. Even with a law forbidding the sighted practicing massage, the sighted are already squeezing out the blind. How would it be if the law is really removed?" said Chang Chieh (張捷), manager at The Blind Massage Health Center.

"Talking about amending the law now is also drawing the focus away from the real issue -- the working rights of the blind -- which has not been really discussed," Chang said.

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