Members of a self-help group formed by unemployed workers who fell victim to a series of nationwide closures in 1996 yesterday called for progress in negotiations with the Council of Labor Affairs and threatened to paralyze the public transportation system over requests that they pay off a government loan.
Several laid-off workers, mostly former employees of a defunct paper plant in Miaoli County’s Jhunan Township (竹南), held a press conference at the legislature in Taipei after receiving a court order mandating repayment of their government loans and employment promotion loans, along with incurred interests and overdue penalties.
The loan scheme was promulgated by the council in 1997 after thousands of workers who had lost their jobs — without prior notification or compensation from their former employers — took to the street, calling on the government to demand compensation from their former employers on their behalf.
Those who took out the loan at the time were under the impression that the scheme was the government’s way of seeking compensation to cover their severance pay and pension.
However, a court order issued in June said otherwise.
“The council has spent a total of NT$16 million [US$535,000] taking legal action against local workers [who took out the loan] and their guarantors. This is a first in the country’s history,” Taoyuan County Central Union president Mao Chen-fei (毛振飛) said.
The self-help group called on Council of Labor Affairs Minister Jennifer Wang (王如玄) to immediately deal with the matter and conduct bilateral negotiations with the laid-off workers, or they would paralyze the country’s railway and mass rapid transport systems starting on Friday, Mao said.
The group last night started a three-day around-the-clock sit-in in front of the council building, with some planning to “hunt Wang out of her official residence.”
In response to the calls, Bureau of Employment and Vocational Training Secretary-General Lai Shu-li (賴樹立) pledged to continue efforts to communicate with the labor group and borrowers to sort out the matter.
Lai said that about 1,000 affected workers applied for the scheme, amounting to about NT$400 million in total outstanding loans, which were disbursed by the bureau’s employment security fund.
“The council started issuing payment orders [to borrowers] in 2005 and about half of the recipients have already paid off their loans in full. However, in light of the upcoming termination of the statutory 15-year recovery period, it has entrusted counselors to reclaim the loan in accordance with the law,” Lai said.
People whose finances make it difficult to repay the loan will be handled on an individual basis, Lai said.
Lai said the council was obligated to reclaim the debt to avoid unjust treatment of loan applicants.