Sun, Nov 02, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Workers protest privatization of tobacco, liquor giant

STAFF WRITER

The Ministry of Finance promised to monitor the privatization plan for Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp more carefully after members of the corporation's labor union protested against privatization in front of the ministry's offices yesterday.

The union mobilized more than a thousand members from different parts of Taiwan to gather in Taipei.

They were mainly concerned about the possibility that certain conglomerates would benefit from the privatization and that employees' welfare might suffer after privatization.

The ministry responded by pointing out that privatization was necessary to enhance the corporation's competitiveness.

Ministry spokesmen promised that the bidders' background and qualifications would be closely examined.

The ministry also promised that the welfare of employees would be protected by relevant laws.

The union was not satisfied with the ministry's responses.

"If the government does not respond to our appeals, we will cooperate with other labor unions to mobilize more members to present a petition at the Presidential Office next spring," said Hsiao Hsi-bin (蕭錫斌), the union chairman.

"The privatization policy should aim at the state-run businesses that have been losing money, but Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp has been profitable. If the government is really introducing overseas strategic investors to the corporation, the government is actually giving a cash cow away," Hsiao said.

The union was received by Liu Teng-cheng (劉燈城), director-general of the ministry's treasury department. The corporation's president, Thomas Lai (賴木山), was also present to listen to the union's appeal.

"Major foreign tobacco and alcohol companies have indeed been showing an interest in the corporation, but since tobacco and alcohol businesses are usually run separately, according to international custom, we cannot accept their bids. So we will not continue with the project to attract overseas strategic investors," Lai said.

"Privatization is a means but not a goal. The privatization is the result of a resolution reached by the Economic Development Advisory Conference (經發會), and the government must carry it out," the finance ministry's Liu said.

He said that the government had given up its monopoly on cigarettes and alcohol, and the ministry has thus far issued 230 licenses for the sale of alcohol and 1,200 for importing alcohol. The ministry will start issuing tobacco licenses next year.

Liu said that the corporation really needed privatization to maintain its competitiveness.

"But the government will consider and monitor the privatization process carefully and there should not be any worry that privatization would benefit certain conglomerates," Liu said.

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