Mon, Dec 06, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Telecom workers vow to strike

LABOR DISPUTE More than 17,000 employees of the state-owned Chunghwa Telecom gathered around the country to take part in a referendum on striking

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Workers from Chunghwa Telecom Worker's Union yesterday participate in a vote via videoconference to approve a strike to prevent the legally mandated privatization of the giant state-run enterprise.

PHOTO: CNA

More than 17,000 Chunghwa Telecom workers yesterday voted to pass a resolution to go on strike, in an effort to thwart the legally mandated privatization of the huge state-run firm.

In an outdoor videoconference that connected the various branches of the Chunghwa Telecom union nationwide, 17,356 out of the 28,000 employers of the state-run company turned up to cast their ballots yesterday. The resolution was overwhelmingly passed by 17,118 votes in favor of a strike against privatization. The referendum-style vote marked the largest labor rally turnout in Chunghwa Telecom's 47 year history.

Chunghwa Telecom Worker's Union chairman Chang Hsu-chung (張緒中) said that yesterday's vote was held because the telecommunications company's management and the government ignored the labor union's appeals for a guarantee that the same work conditions, benefits, and pensions, after the former monopoly becomes a private industry.

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) currently holds 65 percent of the company's shares. The ministry said in May that it planned to sell a 15 percent stake in Chunghwa Telecom this year, but reported no progress in September. Last month, the ministry announced its plan to release 17 percent of its shares, mostly as American Depository Receipts on the New York Stock Exchange, by July next year.

"The vote will give the labor union more bargaining leverage in future negotiations with the management," Chang said.

According to Chang, the labor union will convene a meeting in a week to discuss the timing, place and method of the strike.

Chang also said that if Chunghwa Telecom workers go on strike, it will be done in a way that will least disturb subscribers and users of Chunghwa Telecom services.

"We won't paralyze the network or destroy any facilities," Chang said. "But there is a possibility that we will make a self-sacrificial protest."

Although he did not explain what was meant by "self-sacrificial," Chang said that he would not hesitate to confront the bureaucratic institutions or violate the law.

"We do not exclude the possibility of protesting in front of the Executive Yuan. This time, it won't be a simply passive sit-in demonstration," he said.

In September last year, the union mobilized over 4,000 people to protest in front of the Legislative Yuan and threatening to prevent Premier Yu Shyi-kun from addressing the legislature.

In response to passage of the labor union's resolution, Chunghwa Telecom chairman Ho Chen Tan (賀陳旦) voiced doubts about the legitimacy of the voting procedures.

"We heard that some union branches issued `subsidies' ranging from NT$1,000 to NT$1,500 to those who went to vote. We also heard rumors that some unions even give digital cameras as keepsakes. The voting result is regretful and dubious," said Ho Chen in a press conference immediately after the union finished their vote-tally yesterday afternoon.

Ho Chen also scrambled to assure the public that all services will function as normal in the event of a strike.

"I guarantee that Chunghwa Telecom will do whatever it can to prevent subscribers' rights from being compromised under any circumstances," he said. The company said that it will have an additional 1,000 staff members and 200 managers in training, ready to work on the day of the strike.

In an effort to stabilize its stock price in the face of the labor dispute, the company also reiterated its confidence in surviving the strike, while forwarding the news to the stock exchange here and abroad.

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