Hundreds of university students and workers are to “celebrate” New Year’s Eve today in Taipei by protesting against President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration as others participate in year-end festivities and countdowns.
Members and supporters of the Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters are planning to stage an overnight sit-in protest today at Liberty Square to urge the government to reject the controversial Next Media Group deal.
A party will be held from 7pm to midnight before the sit-in protest begins at the Taipei East Gate, which is close to the Presidential Office, to call on Ma to cancel the deal. A news conference has been scheduled for 8am after the flag-raising ceremony in front of the Presidential Office takes place, the alliance added.
The alliance has kept its promise of not giving up on trying to rescind the media deal, which has garnered international attention due to fears that it would concentrate a large amount of Taiwan’s media into the hands of a few.
It will be the fifth time that the group takes to the streets in the past six months. The students have already staged protests on July 31 at CtiTV, on Sept. 1 in Taipei, on Nov. 26 and Nov. 27 in front of the Executive Yuan, and on Nov. 29 in front of the Fair Trade Commission.
In related news, hundreds of workers said they plan to follow up protests they staged yesterday at the Ximending (西門町) MRT station and outside Ma’s residence with an “Occupy MRT Station” demonstration tonight to protest government lawsuits against laid-off workers.
The workers congregated at several MRT stations on Saturday and yesterday bearing banners apologizing to commuters for the inconvenience they expect their protest to create. International Workers Association researcher Wu Yung-yi (吳永毅), a spokesperson for the protesters, said the demonstrators were discussing multiple options for today’s protest.
“We could still try to occupy the MRT station, but it’s also possible that we won’t. The final decision is to be announced tomorrow morning,” Wu said yesterday evening.
The laid-off workers — most of whom are more than 60 years old — were employed in several companies that went out of business in the 1990s.
When the employers either declared bankruptcy or fled overseas, leaving their employees without the salaries, redundancy payments and retirement pensions that they were owed, the Council of Labor Affairs granted layoff and retirement payments to the workers in the form of loans it promised would not have to be repaid.
However, in June this year, all the workers received letters from the council asking them to repay the loans, including interest and late payment fines, and those who were unable to do so were sued by the council.
One of the workers, a 67-year-old woman surnamed Lu (呂) who makes roughly NT$3,000 a month by selling recyclable waste she collects off the street, was asked to reimburse the government NT$500,000 for a NT$360,000 loan she was granted by the council 16 years ago.
The council in late August said that it would temporarily suspend all legal proceedings against the workers over the issue, but it still allocated NT$20 million for litigation costs in next year’s budget.
The council’s move to budget money for legal proceedings against laid-off employees prompted a series of protests by workers and labor activists over the past few months, including one in August in which they occupied a platform at the Taipei Railway Station.
The association demanded that the government strike the funds allocated for legal proceedings from the council’s budget.
“The government is using seemingly civilized means to deal with disadvantaged people, but the pivotal issue in this case is that it goes against social justice,” a representative of the association said.
Council Deputy Minister Pan Shih-wei (潘世偉) said at a separate setting yesterday that the council would try to propose solutions to the case as soon as possible.
Pan said that the council has formed an ad hoc team led by Deputy Labor Minister Hau Feng-ming (郝鳳鳴) to devise a resolution by the Lunar New Year that will not impugn on the nation’s rights as a creditor, but also considers the debtors’ ability to repay the loans.
Additional reporting by CNA