Workers from liquidated or bankrupt firms would have the same priority as creditors in receiving payments under an amendment to the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) approved yesterday in the Executive Yuan in response to protests by workers. At least one workers’ group deemed the amendment unsatisfactory, calling it the government’s attempt to pass the buck.
Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said disputes over unpaid pensions and severance packages were spawned by the failure of the shuttered businesses to appropriate a sufficient amount of money each month in reserve funds for workers’ retirement benefits.
The amendments to the act, he said, therefore are to better safeguard laborers’ basic rights, since workers’ wages, pensions and severance packages are closely tied to their livelihood.
Photo: Liao Chen-huei, Taipei Times
The proposed revisions also included broadening the range of qualified use of the “arrear wage payment fund” — established by the employer’s required monthly contribution at a fixed rate to workers’ wages — and stepping up measures to oblige employers to have sufficient pensions and severance packages funds deposited monthly in workers’ retirement benefit accounts, among others.
Minister of Labor Chen Hsiung-wen (陳雄文) said that, in the case of former Hualon Corp employees, a Hualon asset auctioned by the court in August provided about NT$2,300 to each worker because about NT$2.1 billion (US$68.7 million) of the total NT$2.4 billion auction price was taken by creditor banks.
“This is exactly why the act must be amended. If workers are given the same priority as the banks — as creditors — the court would [take workers’ rights] into consideration when distributing income from such auctions,” Chen said.
The minister added that even though the draft amendment has not been passed by the legislature, the banks involved in Hualon’s case have, after the ministry’s coordination, agreed to “donate” 20 percent of what they received from the Hualon asset auction to the company’s former employees, which would amount to about NT$420 million.
“This 20 percent is consistent with the spirit of the amended Article 28 [of the act]. With our effort in the negotiation, the banks, in order to be committed to social responsibility, decided to donate 20 percent. The money will be placed in a special account established by the ministry and distributed to the workers accordingly,” Chen said.
In response to the Hualon Self-Help Organization’s call for a one-time, 100 percent repayment of the NT$780 million they say they are owed, Chen said the best solution would be a two-stage approach, in which the rest of the NT$780 million could be paid with income from the auction of another Hualon property in Miaoli that is scheduled to be sold.
“The distribution of the income would be subject to the amended Article 28, if the bill passes the third reading by then,” he added.
The Hualon Self-Help Organization staged a protest outside the Executive Yuan yesterday afternoon following the Executive Yuan’s press conference, contending that the government’s move is of no help to the workers.
“Workers should have the top priority, higher than the banks, in receiving repayment,” organization president Lee Tsui-ming (李翠明) said. “Otherwise, it would be ‘a fight between a whale and a shrimp’ and of no help to the workers.”
The group also called on the government to take up the responsibility by transferring the creditors’ rights to the Ministry of Labor and compensating workers first with public funds, “if they are so sure that the workers will definitely receive 100 percent of the repayment after the Hualon’s asset [in Miaoli] is auctioned by the court,” organization secretary Huang Yung-chiao (黃永喬) said.
The proceeds from the asset sold in 2008 have not been distributed to the former Hualon workers, who are now on average in their 60s, Lee said, adding: “How many decades could a person live? It would take too long [for them] to wait for court auctions and the [potential] distribution.”
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