The Alliance for Workers of Closed Factories (AWCF), along with supporters from several other labor organizations, yesterday rallied outside the legislature in Taipei as it was reviewing the Council of Labor Affairs’ (CLA) budget, including a NT$20.5 million (US$704,000) budget for suing workers at some closed factories.
Dragging a coffin while chanting slogans urging the council to leave them alone, the workers — wearing black vests with large characters in white for “sorrowful,” “resentment” and “fuck” to describe their feelings — circled around the Legislative Yuan as the meeting took place.
“Fifteen or 16 years ago, a lot of factories went out of business, and the bosses of these factories simply left without giving their employees retirement pay or even months of salaries,” Taoyuan County Confederation of Trade Unions chairman Mao Chen-fei (毛振飛) said.
“The CLA gave them [workers] money at the time, telling them that it was a loan, and that they wouldn’t have to repay them and that the council would hold their employers responsible for repaying the loans,” Mao said.
About 500 workers accepted the money after the council’s promise, Mao said.
However, 15 years later, the council asked the workers to repay the amount and filed lawsuits against those who have not done so. Most were not able to repay the “loans” because they could not afford to do so.
After a demonstration that partially paralyzed traffic at the Taipei Railway Station in August, the council promised to suspend legal actions while negotiating with the workers. However, workers were upset to discover the council had allocated a budget for legal action against them in the next fiscal year.
“Although the CLA has showed some goodwill by suspending the lawsuit, all these workers must live under constant fear if the CLA does not call the lawsuits off completely,” Mao said. “The renewed request for a budget for the loan issue is especially irritating.”
Taiwan International Workers’ Association researcher Wu Yung-yi (吳永毅) said that AWCF members also took part in a labor demonstration over the weekend, making the same appeal.
“The CLA responded that day with a statement saying that suspending legal action is its solution to the issue,” Wu said. “The response was unacceptable, and the new budget request makes workers feel that they are being cheated by the government.”
Reacting to the latest protest, CLA Minister Pan Shih-wei (潘世偉) told the media outside the meeting room that the council was trying its best to settle the issue through negotiations.
“We’ve listed the budget as the law requires, but asking for it doesn’t mean that we will use the money,” Pan said. “We are negotiating with representatives from the workers now.”
With the money listed as debts, the council has to ask for a budget to handle the issue; otherwise auditing authorities within the government may penalize the council, the minister said.