The Executive Yuan’s approval of the Council of Labor Affairs’ proposed amendment to the Labor Union Act (工會法), which would allow teachers to organize labor unions, was a major breakthrough in terms of teacher rights to form organizations.
For decades, teachers have been denied the right to launch labor unions.
The restriction has been imposed on teachers since the law was first enacted in 1929, 18 years before the Constitution took effect.
Teachers have been urging the government to “return” the rights to them, but their campaign suffered a major defeat on June 2, 2007, when the Supreme Administrative Court ruled against a case brought by the National Teachers Association (NTA) that the restriction infringed upon Article 14 of the Constitution, which protects people’s freedom to organize groups.
The court rejected the case on the ground that the Teachers’ Act (教師法) allowed teachers to establish teachers’ associations.
But NTA president Kevin Wu (吳忠泰) said whether teachers should be allowed to organize labor unions was a “human rights” issue.
“We signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights while we were still a member of the UN in 1967. The Legislative Yuan also ratified the two conventions [on March 31],” Wu said during a phone interview.
“The two conventions, which should enjoy a higher status than our domestic laws, state that employees have the freedom to choose and organize labor unions,” Wu said.
As a result, the long-time ban on teachers has violated the spirit of the two international covenants, Wu said.
“Those who are opposed to teachers’ right to organize labor unions do not know what ‘human rights’ are. They should go abroad and see what other countries have been doing,” Wu said.
But Secondary and Elementary School Principals’ Association (SESPA) president Chang Jung-hui (張榮輝) thought otherwise.
Chang said teachers enjoy much better benefits than private sector employees and should not be granted more power.
Chang said he was also concerned about the number of extra days off that would be granted to teachers who have to deal with affairs at their labor unions.
“[By the definition of labor unions], during negotiation with employers, employers should give staff members of the unions official days off. These days off are expected to cost [the government] NT$10 billion [US$293 million],” Chang said.
“This money can be spent on covering free school lunches for students for a period of six months,” Chang said.
Indeed, allowing teachers to organize labor unions would inevitably entail a change in the relations between teachers and schools.
“Should teachers be considered laborers or professional educators?” Chang said.
Wu admitted that teachers’ roles would change if they were allowed to organize labor unions, saying that school management remained a negotiable issue.
But he said that a teacher’s participation in a labor union would not prevent him or her from contributing to school management.
National Alliance of Parents Organization (NAPO) chairman Hsieh Kuo-ching (謝國清), on the other hand, was concerned about students’ rights if teachers were allowed to go on strike.
The proposed amendment, however, prohibited teachers from launching strikes.
The proposal was approved by the Executive Yuan in line with Ministry of Education policy.