Lawmakers at a meeting of the legislature’s Transportation Committee in Taipei yesterday froze half of the budget for the freeway service charge to be given to the Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co (FETC) if the Ministry of Transportation and Communications fails to settle the issues surrounding former toll collectors.
About two dozen former freeway toll collectors gathered outside the Legislative Yuan yesterday, demanding negotiations with Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時), while threatening to block Freeway No. 1 on Nov. 28 — the day before the nine-in-one elections — if the ministry does not provide a satisfactory solution.
The former toll collectors lost their jobs after the nation launched the distance-based electronic toll collection (ETC) system and removed all toll booths from freeways in January. More than 200 of them refused to accept the five-month severance package offered by the National Freeway Bureau.
The former toll collectors raised banners and shouted slogans outside the legislature, while the committee reviewed the budget for the National Freeway Construction & Management Fund inside.
Anticipating Yeh’s arrival at the meeting in the morning, the former toll collectors were shocked to learn that Yeh would not be showing up since he had applied for a vacation last week and that the committee would be discussing the budget without the minister attending.
“The government is unwilling to listen to our pleas or come forward to solve our problems, therefore forcing us to partake in more extreme forms of protest,” Freeway Toll Collector Self-Help Organization executive secretary Sun I-feng (孫藝鳳) said.
The organization threatened to re-enact protests conducted in June and October, in which former toll collectors blocked access to several lanes of Freeway No. 1.
Meanwhile, inside the legislature, lawmakers allowed 10 of the self-help group members to sit in the conference room to listen to what the ministry officials had to say in response to the questions about the former toll collectors. The committee then passed a resolution to freeze half the budget for the freeway service charge as the ministry had failed to solve the problem of arranging jobs for the former toll collectors.
The bureau had budgeted about NT$1.7 billion (US$55.6 million) to be given to FETC as service charge for collecting the fees.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌), who proposed the resolution, said that 80 percent of the former toll collectors live in central and southern Taiwan, but only 35 percent of the jobs provided by the firm were in these regions, adding that many of the jobs offered by FETC were too far away from where former toll collectors live.
“FETC has clearly no ability to solve the problem, so the ministry and FETC should find another way to settle with the former toll collectors. The jobs should not be those proposed by FETC, although the contractor should ensure that toll collectors’ interests are protected,” Tsai said. “We are giving the National Freeway Bureau a knife so that they can negotiate with FETC. The bureau can only use the other half of the budget if they reach a settlement with the former toll collectors.”
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