Sat, Nov 22, 2008 - Page 2 News List

Masseurs protest court ruling

JOB FEARSThe visually impaired workers rallied to demand the government not amend a law that stipulates that they are the nation's only legal masseurs

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Visually impaired masseurs protest at Liberty Square in Taipei yesterday, calling on the government to protect their right to employment.

PHOTO: CNA

Around 1,500 visually impaired masseurs from all over the nation took to the streets yesterday, protesting a Council of Grand Justice decision overturning a rule that made them the only legal masseurs.

“Massage is one of the few jobs that a visually impaired person can do well. But in recent years, their jobs have been threatened because of the growing number of illegal massage centers that employ masseurs with no visual impairment,” Sun Yi-hsin (孫一信), a long-time activist for the rights of the physically challenged, told the demonstrators at Liberty Square in Taipei before they began their march to the Ministry of the Interior.

Figures released by the National Federation of Masseurs’ Unions showed that more than 5,000 visually impaired people — representing 70 percent of all visually impaired people on the job market — are currently working in the massage industry.

“Instead of lending a helping hand to the visually impaired masseurs, the government is making the situation worse by planning to allow non-visually impaired masseurs into the market,” Sun said.

An article in the Rights and Interests of the Handicapped Protection Law (身心障礙者權益保障法) stipulates that “non-visually impaired persons may not work as masseurs.”

However, a constitutional interpretation issued by the Council of Grand Justices last month declared the clause unconstitutional as it violates equal rights in employment as protected by the Constitution. The Council then urged that the article be removed within three years.

That decision has worried the visually impaired masseurs.

Lee Cheng-chia (李政家), a 54-year-old visually impaired masseur, joined the march out of fear of more competition in the marketplace.

“I’m the only wage-earner in my family — my wife has just been laid off from a factory, two of my sons have just graduated from college and are looking for jobs, while my youngest son is still serving in the military,” Lee said.

He recalled that he used to be able to make between NT$50,000 and NT$60,000 a month as a masseur.

But since the illegal massage centers grew in number about five or six years ago, “I’m making less than NT$20,000 a month now.”

Once the legal barrier is lifted for the non-visually impaired to enter the industry, “things will only get worse,” Lee said.

Some of the visually impaired masseurs have tried other jobs, but failed.

“I majored in social works at National Taipei University of Education and I am a certified social worker,” said Chang Tung-fa (張東發), who suffers from a detached retina and is partially blind.

Chang had worked as a social worker at a charity organization for years, but problems with reading made him decide to quit.

“I can only read words at font size 70 on a computer screen. And when it comes to reading printed documents, I had to ask for help from my colleagues,” he said.

Prior to getting a college degree, Chang had also worked at his father’s auto repair shop, “but I cut my little finger once when operating a machine, because I couldn’t see clearly.”

“My eyesight is getting worse as I grow older, so I decided that I’d find a more stable, workable job, and thus I became a masseur,” he said.

After receiving representatives of the protesters, Deputy Minister of the Interior Lin Join-sane (林中森) said the ministry would set up a special task force within a week to come up with solutions to help the visually impaired masseurs.

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