About 200 former freeway toll-fee collectors stormed into the offices of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications in Taipei during a protest yesterday morning, asking the government to find jobs for them and to offer compensation comparable with that of those laid off by state-run corporations.
Scuffles between the protesters and police broke out as the former were upset that the ministry could not locate a bigger conference room to fit in all the representatives of the toll-fee collectors.
Those waiting outside the building then rushed through a cordon and entered the lobby of the building, which was guarded by only about two dozen police officers.
To ease the tension, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Apollo Chen (陳學聖) asked the ministry to allow the protesters to sit in the lobby. Ministry officials then met with the representatives in the cafeteria and discussed solutions to the problem.
The protesters cited the conclusions of negotiations between toll-fee collectors, the National Freeway Bureau and the ministry on April 1, requiring that the ministry place toll-fee collectors in job openings available at the ministry. Meanwhile, the protesters also demanded that they be compensated in the same way as those who had been laid off by the ministry because of a change of system.
If the ministry fails to respond to their demands, the former toll collectors threatened to protest by lying on the nation’s freeways and paralyzing the traffic.
Failing again to reach an agreement, the protesters left the building at about 1:30pm.
The nation’s freeway toll collectors were laid off after a “pay-as-you-go” electronic toll collection system was introduced in January operated by Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co (FETC). Based on its build-operate-transfer contract with the government, the contractor was obligated to help the toll collectors find jobs within FETC, as well as at other subsidiaries of Far Eastern Group.
Statistics from FETC showed that a total of 941 toll collectors lost their jobs due to the launch of the new collection system, with 455 of them indicating that they wanted to be re-employed by FETC or given jobs within Far Eastern Group.
As of this month, 204 applicants had succeeded finding a new job through the arrangement with FETC.
Though the firm promised to find employment for former toll-fee collectors by the end of June, many have complained that they were humiliated by FETC during the job-seeking process. They were either limited by their qualifications or were given a hard time at interviews.
National Freeway Bureau Deputy Director-General Wu Mu-fu (吳木富) said the bureau would need to consult with the Directorate-General of Personnel Administration to see which job openings could be made available to toll collectors, as it may contradict the rules on how the government recruits workers.