The Ministry of Labor yesterday announced that it was withdrawing all lawsuits against members of the National Alliance for Workers of Closed-Off Factories, following a recent ruling in favor of some of the workers.
The alliance, meanwhile, pledged to pursue the officials involved.
“Since it may take a long time for the judiciary to clarify whether the controversy involves public law or private law, I hereby announce that the ministry will withdraw all lawsuits against the laid-off workers to maintain social harmony, avoid wasting more judicial resources and free the workers from the suffering,” Minister of Labor Pan Shih-wei (潘世偉) told a news conference yesterday afternoon.
“For people who have repaid their loans, the money will be returned to them,” he said.
Pan was referring to a controversial case that started more than 17 years ago, when several factories went out of business, and the employers fled, leaving hundreds of their employees without severance or retirement pay.
After repeated protests by the workers, the Council of Labor Affairs at the time devised a plan to hand out severance and retirement pay to the workers as loans, promising the workers that they would not have to repay them. Instead, their former employers would be held responsible.
However, about two years ago when the repayment deadline approached, the council backflipped and asked the workers to repay the debts, suing those who were unable or refused to repay, triggering another wave of protests by the workers.
On Friday, the Taipei High Administrative Court ruled on five cases involving 12 former workers, saying they do not have to repay the loan, since it was not a loan per se, but replacement for severance and retirement payouts.
At the time, Pan said he would wait until he receives the written verdict before deciding whether to appeal.
Yesterday, he said that not only is the ministry not filing an appeal, but it will withdraw the remaining cases.
Reacting to the announcement, alliance spokeswoman Chen Hsiu-lien (陳秀蓮) said the workers were unhappy with the tone of the ministry’s announcement.
“It is as if the ministry is doing the workers a big favor, but the truth is we won in court because of our hard work over the past 17 years, carrying out numerous hunger strikes, long marches and protests, with at least two activists being jailed and about a dozen facing prosecution,” Chen said.
“Yet, the ministry is acting as if it’s the savior. They [officials] are shameless,” she said.
Chen added that said that up to now, there are still other workers owed salaries or retirement pay by their former employers.
“We’re not only concerned about our own problems; we think there’s a need for a change, and we will continue to push for legal amendments to better protect workers’ rights,” she said.
Tseng Wei-kai (曾威凱), an attorney who represented the workers in court, said that although Pan announced that the ministry was dropping all cases, “he still insists that it’s a loan, which means he is not admitting to the mistake.”
“The lawsuits may have ended, but the pursuit of the legal and administrative responsibilities of all officials involved is just beginning,” he said.
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