Hundreds of laid-off workers and labor rights advocates yesterday took part in an open-air banquet in front of the Presidential Office Building organized by the National Alliance for Workers of Closed Off Factories (NAWCF) to celebrate the workers’ victory in their legal battle against the government and to continue the fight for workers’ rights.
“Although we eventually won the lawsuit, I feel sad to call it a victory, because we have not won anything, we have just proven the fact that we do not owe the government any money,” Taoyuan Confederation of Trade Unions chairman Mao Chen-fei (毛振飛) told the crowd.
Mao said it was also sad because many workers had passed away before the day of victory, but he was glad that an elderly worker in Miaoli County was able to proudly tell his family from his sick bed that he has not owed anyone money during his whole life.
Mao was referring to a dispute that started in 1996, when many factories went out of business and the owners absconded, while still owing employees’ salaries and retirement payouts.
Facing protests by the laid-off workers, the then-Council of Labor Affairs, now the Ministry of Labor, proposed giving the salaries and retirement payouts owed to the workers as loans, promising that their employers and not the workers, would have to repay the loan.
Despite that promise, in 2012 when the loan repayment deadline was up, the council did ask the workers to repay the loans since it had failed to secure payment from their former employers. The council also filed lawsuits against those who were unable or refused to pay.
The move triggered a series of demonstrations, until the government eventually decided to drop the lawsuits against the laid-off workers in March.
Chen Hsiu-lien (陳秀蓮), a spokeswoman for the NAWCF, said that food served in the banquet, including stir-fried rice noodles and meatball soup, are meaningful, since these were the same dishes prepared by the laid-off workers when they occupied the factories in protest 18 years ago.
“The banquet is to show our appreciation for all who participated or have helped us along the way,” she said. “We are also announcing that, though the problem for the laid-off workers has been solved, we will continue to help other workers still suffering, and will continue the campaign to revise the Labor Standards Act [勞動基準法] to better protect workers’ rights.”
NAWCF members also passed torches to laid-off freeway toll collectors, who have just recently started their campaign for their employment rights, symbolizing that they would pass on their experiences and help others.
Prior to the banquet, the NAWCF also demonstrated outside the ministry, urging it to apologize for its earlier demand that workers repay the loans, and called for a revision of labor laws.
They also threw dog and cat excrement toward the ministry’s building, accusing the ministry of failing to defend labor rights, calling it a “garbage ministry.”