“The Taipei City Government’s Department of Labor should stop barring our plan to form a union,” prospective members of a proposed National Taiwan University (NTU) Labor Union said yesterday.
At a press conference held with Democratic Progressive Party Taipei City Councilor Chien Yu-yen (簡余晏) and Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Lin Shih-chia (林世嘉), they urged the department to take the initiative in verifying union members’ work status and approve its application for establishment as soon as possible.
The union was organized in January by a group of 36 graduate students who work as teaching assistants, or temporary, full-time and part-time research assistants at the National Taiwan University. Four months after receiving the union’s application for approval, the city’s labor department rejected its request in May on the grounds that “it could not ascertain that the students and the school had an employer-employee relationship.”
Frustrated, the union filed a complaint against the department with the Council of Labor Affairs, which issued a decision on Sept. 7 stating that the city’s labor department had violated the Administrative Procedure Act (行政程序法) by not giving reasons for its refusal and ordered it to reach a new conclusion within two months.
“In its formal report, the department did not give us any reason as to why we are not considered workers. Neither did it make an effort to verify that we are school employees,” said the planned union’s president, Huang Shou-ta (黃守達). “Apart from the detailed information we submitted, the university has all records of employment. All the department has to do is ask the school to supply the proof that it needs.”
Huang also found the council’s decision “disappointing.”
“The council could have taken an active position and recognized our status. But instead of doing this, it tossed responsibility back to the city’s department,” he added.
In its decision, the council did not issue a ruling on the students’ employment status. Instead, it asked the labor department to clarify the employment relationship between the school and the employees in question.
Chiang Ming-chih (江明志), head of the department’s labor relations division, said because the proposed NTU Labor Union is a corporate union, “there has to be a clearly proven relationship between employer and employee,” as defined in the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法).
It is tricky, Chiang said, to determine whether the relationship between part-time and temporary assistants and the university constitute “employment” since the students are hired by professors to work on research projects commissioned by external institutes such as the National Science Council.
Also, in the city government’s opinion, whether teaching assistants are employed by professors or the university is a matter of debate.
It is also not clear whether a teacher’s right to manage and supervise assistants comes from his or her status as the employer or is granted by the university, the city government said.
“To put it simply, we have to clarify the employment relationship among students, professors and the university,” Chiang said.
Chang chih-cheng (張智程), a union member, dismissed the city government’s claim by asking why full-time research assistants are deemed school employees, but part-time assistants are not, even though their work entails the same responsibilities.