Tue, Mar 03, 2009 - Page 3 News List

Council expands legal aid services for labor disputes

By Shelley Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Council of Labor Affairs is expanding its legal aid services to include more workers whose disputes with their employers end in litigation, the council said yesterday.

Recent factory closures spurred by the economic downturn have caused a rise in the number of labor disputes, especially cases related to severance pay and labor contracts.

Council of Labor Affairs Minister Jennifer Wang (王如玄) said the council last year handled 24,540 disputes between employers and employees, a 24.39 percent increase from the previous year.

“About 60 percent of the disputes were settled ... but just because the workers accepted the terms of the settlement doesn’t mean they were entirely happy with the result,” she said. “Some workers may have lost a lot of ground in the settlement process.”

“When I was a lawyer, I was angered when I heard people say, ‘Lawyers only help the rich.’ By providing this service, workers who can’t afford to hire lawyers can still be protected by the law,” she said.

The council has teamed up with the Legal Aid Foundation (LAF), which has 20 offices across the nation, in a program called the Legal Aid for Labor Litigation Scheme.

The program will provide a ­subsidy of up to NT$60,000 in each instance for single litigation and up to NT$200,000 for group litigation. Labor disputes about unpaid salaries, illegal layoffs, inadequate labor insurance and uncompensated job hazards can all be submitted to the LAF. The foundation will evaluate each case to determine whether the plaintiff is eligible for legal aid.

However, labor contract disputes involving foreign caregivers and household assistants will not be subsidized by the program as they are not protected by the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法), the council said.

The program was first proposed more than a month ago, when Wang announced the council’s preliminary plans to set up a “labor rights fund” to provide legal counsel and subsidies to workers who may have to take disputes to court, but are unable pay the legal fees on their own.

Wang said yesterday that the funding for the project would come out of the council’s Second Reserve Fund, because setting up a “labor rights fund” will require legislative procedures that could take months.

The council estimates that 2,000 people will benefit from the program this year, which is 13 times as many as the average of 150 people per year the council has assisted in the past.

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