The Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) yesterday agreed to temporarily suspend lawsuits against laid-off workers yesterday, after the workers threatened to paralyze railways and engaged in a two-hour standoff with police at the Taipei Railway Station.
“[CLA minister] Jennifer Wang (王如玄), come out and talk to us! Jennifer Wang come out and talk to us,” more than 200 laid-off workers from several companies that went out of business more than 15 years ago chanted as they occupied a platform at the Taipei Railway Station.
Police officers stood at the edge of the platform and patrolled the station to make sure that trains could pass, and that the protesters would not move onto the tracks to paralyze the railroad system, as they had planned.
At first, labor groups announced they would assemble in front of the CLA and march to a nearby MRT station to block trains, but when hundreds of police officers surrounded the protesters there, another group of about 200 protesters took a train from Taoyuan, got off at Taipei Railway Station and occupied the platform.
Although the police moved fast enough to guard the platform, they arrived too late to block the protesters from entering the train station.
The laid-off workers — most of whom are more than 60 years old — were formerly employees of companies including Lien-fu Textiles Co (聯福紡織), Tung-ling Electronics Co (東菱電子) and Hsing Lee Paper Co (興利紙業). The companies went out of business in the 1990s and the employers either declared bankruptcy or fled overseas, leaving their employees without the salaries, redundancy payments and retirement pensions they were owed.
To solve the problem, the council chose to grant layoff and retirement payments to these workers in the form of loans and promised that they would not have to repay them, with the council recouping the loans from their former employers.
However, recently all the workers received letters from the CLA asking them to repay the loans, and those who are unable to do so were sued by the CLA.
The workers have staged a camp-in protest outside the CLA headquarters in Taipei for more than 50 days, asking to meet with Wang. Because the minister had ignored the request, they decided to take more extreme actions, such as paralyzing the railroads.
“You do not owe the government any money. What you got 16 years ago was what you should get, it’s the employers who owe the government money,” Labor Rights Association executive director Wang Chuan-ping (王娟萍) told the crowd. “For us ordinary citizens, we cannot owe even NT$1 of tax money to the government, but for the capitalists, they could owe hundreds of millions of New Taiwan dollars and the government would do nothing about it.”
“Politicians and capitalists are forming an alliance, an alliance to repress and exploit us, the ordinary workers,” she said.
In response to the protesters’ threat, the CLA sent deputy minister Kuo Fang-yu (郭芳煜) to negotiate. After a two-hour meeting, the council agreed to make concessions, including temporarily suspending lawsuits and organizing a meeting with the minister to discuss the issue in two weeks, after the minister returns from an official visit to Latin America.
Taoyuan Professional Union chairman Mao Chen-fei (毛振飛), one of the negotiators, said the concessions the council made were barely acceptable.