After a four-day march from Miaoli County’s Toufen Township (頭份), hundreds of Hualon Corp employees, unionists and their supporters arrived in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei yesterday, calling on President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to lend a helping hand.
“Where is the government when workers are suffering?” “Our action will eventually succeed,” workers chanted as they were blocked from entering the Presidential Office through a side gate for visitors.
“We are very tired, we are exhausted, but we will not give up,” a Hualon employee named Lee Shu-yin (李淑蔭) said. “We marched for more than 100km from Toufen to here, many of us have blisters on our feet, many of us were too tired to go on, but we could only prick the blisters and march on.”
“We are not asking for special treatment, we are merely asking for what we deserve according to the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法),” she said. “We didn’t make the law, it is the government that made the law, we don’t understand why the government is not doing anything to help when our employer has broken the law. The president must come out and accept our petition,” he said.
In recent years, Hualong employees have had their salaries cut, as their employer said that the company is suffering from the financial pressures.
The issue worsened in June last year, when many employers were asked to give up retirement pensions and layoff payouts, while others were not paid their due salaries.
Upset about the situation and the government’s unwillingness to protect their rights, Hualon employees began a camp-in strike 73 days ago and then decided to launch a four-day march to Taipei after they failed to receive any response from their employer and the government.
After waiting outside the side gate for more than an hour under the sun, workers decided to march towards the front gate of the Presidential Office where they clashed with police who tried to stop them.
Later in the afternoon, representatives for the protestors were finally able to meet with Presidential Office Deputy Secretary-General Hsiung Kuang-hua (熊光華), but the protesters were disappointed by Hsiung’s response to their demands.
“The Presidential Office basically said that the President acknowledges the situation that you [the workers] are facing, and will refer your petition to the Council of Labor Affairs on Monday,” Tang Shu (唐曙), Labor Party secretary-general, told the crowd after meeting with Hsiung. “The Presidential Office also said it is not within their power to handle the issue.”
The response from the Presidential Office upset the workers, who decided to stage a sleep-in protest until Monday.
Unlike other labor protests, many students from universities and high schools across the country also took part in the march and demonstration.
“This is not ‘their’ issue, it is ‘our’ issue,” said Liang Sheng-yueh (梁聖岳), a sophomore from National Hsinchu Senior High School. “We will all eventually become part of the work force, and we can all encounter similar problems, so we should be out here giving our support to the workers.”