Sun, Jan 18, 2009 - Page 2 News List

Hundreds of unemployed hold own ‘weiya’

NOODLES AND BLOOD Organizers demanded that the government set up a fund to help financially struggling workers delay paying off their loans and extend benefits

By Shelley Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Hundreds of unemployed workers and union members gathered at Liberty Square in Taipei yesterday and held their own weiya (尾牙, a year-end party held before the Lunar New Year) in protest against the government’s inability to help them keep their jobs.

The workers sat down at dozens of banquet tables and had rice noodles and pig blood soup (豬血湯).

The event was organized by labor associations and workers’ unions from across the country, including the National Federation of Independent Trade Unions (NAFITU), the Confederation of Taipei Trade Unions, the Youth Labor Union, the Formosa Plastics Group workers’ union and several others.

Most companies in the country hold weiya for their employees as a form of thanking them for a year of hard work. Labor associations and unions decided to hold their own weiya for those who lost their jobs because of the economic downturn and unfair labor practices by their employers, the organizers said.

The event was also a follow-up to a protest held last month, when hundreds of angry union members gathered in front of the Council of Labor Affairs, demanding that it crack down on businesses that conduct illegal mass layoffs, force workers to take unpaid leave and engage in other illegal labor practices.

Unsatisfied with the response they received from the council and the lack of change in labor policy, the protesters said the mass weiya was a form of protest.

The Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics said that as of the end of November the unemployment rate had continued to climb — reaching 4.64 percent, with more than 500,000 people unemployed.

“Unpaid leave means the employer is trying to avoid paying workers their salaries and forcing them to quit on their own. It is really just unemployment in disguise,” NAFITU president Chu Wei-li (朱維立) said.

The government should require all companies planning layoffs, pay cuts or unpaid leave to meet requirements by showing that they have suffered long-term losses from a decline in demand and prove they had no other option but to cut salary costs, he said.

The workers also demanded the CLA set up a fund to help troubled workers delay paying off loans and urged the council to extend unemployment benefits from six months to nine months.

In response, the CLA said it was mulling a “labor rights fund” that would provide subsidies to workers whose disputes with their employers end in litigation. As for extending unemployment benefits, the council said it would evaluate conditions in the labor market and map out necessary measures.

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