National Taiwan University (NTU) students working as school assistants yesterday accused the government of blocking their plan to form a union on campus.
Kenny Lin (林凱衡), secretary-general of the proposed NTU student union, told a press conference at the legislature that students working as teaching assistants, research assistants and assistants for research proposals are often treated as low-paid labor on campus.
The school pays students low wages, but professors give them heavy workloads, Lin said.
Since students find it difficult to complain because they work under these professors, they hope to form a union to protect their rights, Lin said.
However, the Taipei City Government’s Department of Labor has rejected the NTU students’ application, saying it could not ascertain that the students and the school had an “employer-employee relationship” as defined in the Labor Standards Act (勞基法), Lin said.
Lin accused the Council of Labor Affairs of shirking its responsibility when it failed to correct the department for what he called an “illegal decision.”
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Cheng Li-chiun (鄭麗君) said universities had become sweatshops, exploiting student assistants and infringing on their rights.
European universities have had student unions for more than 50 years, she said, adding that it should not be a problem to allow Taiwanese students to form unions on campuses.
National Chengchi University law professor Lin Liang-jung (林良榮) said several countries do not meddle in the formation of labor unions and that some do not even have a labor act.
As the NTU does not ban students from forming unions, Lin Liang-jung said it was difficult to understand why the government would involve itself and oppose the creation of unions.
Council of Labor Affairs official Chiang Yen-ping (江衍平), who was present at the press conference, repeated the city government’s stance that labor authorities had yet to determine whether the relationship between student assistants and the university constituted “employment.”
Kenny Lin countered that the university and students sign a contract whenever a student is hired as an assistant. He then presented several contracts as proof of employment.
Lin Liang-Jung said that in lawsuits relating to employment relationship disputes, the courts have adopted a more lenient approach that usually favors workers to protect their rights.
He added that labor authorities should confirm the employment status of student assistants to help them.