Dozens of laid-off workers and labor activists yesterday clashed with police as they protested in Taipei against the Council of Labor Affairs’ (CLA) pursuit of money granted to them as layoff loans and retirement payouts.
“We want to get on the sky bridge! How can you block the sky bridge? Everyone has the right to use it!” protestors shouted as they pushed and shoved against police officers blocking them from getting on the pedestrian sky bridge at the intersection of Zhongxiao W Road and Zhongshan S Road.
“Please stop pushing and attacking officers, you are not only in violation of the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法), but also involved in the offense of obstructing official duties,” a police officer said through a loudspeaker, but it did not deter the demonstrators.
“We’re just trying to get on the sky bridge, you have violated our freedom of movement!” people in the crowd shouted back.
The laid-off workers were from several textile and electronic parts manufacturers that closed down in the 1990s because of financial problems.
Instead of giving their employees layoff and retirement payments, the employers either declared bankruptcy or fled overseas.
The council came up with a solution to give these laid-off workers proper payouts in the form of loans.
At first, the workers rejected the solution, but they eventually accepted the proposal as the council promised them that they would not have to pay the money back. The council said it would seek the money from their employers.
However, since the council is still not able to get the money back from the former employers, it has requested the laid-off former workers to repay their loans. It has recently filed lawsuits against those who have been unable to do so.
“The CLA told us that we wouldn’t have to pay back the loan and they would get the employer to repay, that’s why I agreed to the proposal,” former Lien-fu Textile Co employee Chao Hsueh-jung (趙學榮) said.
“The CLA is now asking me to repay NT$430,000, but how could I possibly have that much money? I’m 88 years old and I have a paralyzed wife to take care of,” he added.
Chao said he was born in China in 1925 and survived World War II and the Chinese Civil War, “but now the government is killing me.”
“If the CLA does not stop pursuing [us], I will kill myself in front of the courthouse. I’m 88 years old, I’ve lived long enough,” he said.
After trying fruitlessly to break the police line, the protesters sat on Zhongshan S Road, blocking the outer lane of traffic.
Zhongzheng First Precinct police chief Fang Yang-ning (方仰寧) threatened to charge them with creating a public hazard.
However, as the demonstrators refused to back off, police compromised and escorted them to the Taipei Railway Station, where they handed out flyers to passersby.
The demonstrators planned to perform a skit on the sky bridge modeled on a scene from the Taiwanese movie No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti (不能沒有你), in which a father tried to jump off the sky bridge with his daughter in protest.
The movie was based on a true story in which the father did just that, because social workers tried to take his daughter away from him and give her to a foster family because they said he may not be able to support the child.
The demonstrators said if Council of Labor Affairs Minister Jennifer Wang (王如玄) does not negotiate with them before tomorrow, they would block the MRT metro rail system in Taipei tomorrow.