Fri, Aug 21, 2015 - Page 3 News List

NTNU under fire over changes

LABOR INSURANCE:The university has changed its teaching assistant program to a ‘mentorship’ system to avoid paying for their insurance premiums, a union said

By Abraham Gerber  /  Staff reporter

Representatives of the Taiwan Higher Education Union yesterday accused National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) of trying to wiggle its way out of paying labor insurance premiums by changing its teaching assistant (TA) program.

“Even if you only work for one night a week at McDonald’s, you still have labor insurance because of government requirements,” union organization department director Lin Bo-yi (林柏儀) said. “What we want to ask is why universities do not even provide the same benefits as McDonald’s?”

New rules issued by the Ministry of Labor earlier this year mandate that students who work as teaching and research assistants at universities must be included in the national labor insurance system. The system provides compensation in the event of job-related accidents, and the premiums count toward contribution to the national labor pension program. Employers pay the bulk of employees’ premiums, of which a portion is directly deducted from employee salaries.

The ministry’s decision has triggered a backlash from universities, which have said they cannot afford to pay their share of premiums for teaching and research assistants.

NTNU sparked controversy earlier this week by suspending all hiring of teaching assistants and saying it is introducing a new “mentorship system” in which faculty will instruct student mentees how to manage classes. While mentees will receive cash bonuses if the mentor gives them good marks, they will not be included in the national labor insurance system.

“You cannot just change names and deny that there is an employer-employee relationship, or that there are substantial differences in the responsibilities of teaching assistants and student mentees,” Lin said.

“Even if someone is being trained, they should still enjoy the benefits to which they are entitled,” he said, citing McDonalds and Starbucks as examples of companies that provide benefitis for workers in training.

The universities were only able to present such proposals because of overly lax implementation regulations issued by the Ministry of Education, he said.

While the Ministry of Science and Technology has agreed to allow professors to apply for extra grants to cover labor insurance for their research assistants, the Ministry of Education has been unwilling to provide such funds as part of university subsidies, Lin said.

The union estimated that covering the employer labor insurance contribution for teaching assistants would require NT$1 billion (US$30.6 million), about 1 percent of regular university subsidies.

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