A week into a hunger strike by laid-off workers who were forced to repay their retirement payouts outside the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) building in Taipei that has seen two protesters hospitalized, the council still refuses to meet and negotiate with the demonstrators.
“I’ve been sitting here for 24 hours a day since April 28, but no CLA official has been willing to come out and meet with us. This is how indifferent the government is when facing the people,” said Chen Man-ping (陳滿屏), a laid-off worker from Dong-ling Electronics Co who has been on hunger strike with about a dozen of her peers for a week.
“The government only sees the rich, and ignores the workers and the disadvantaged people,” she said.
As of yesterday, three of the hunger strikers have been rushed to hospital after passing out, yet the CLA did not respond.
The story began 16 years ago, when several companies declared bankruptcy and left their workers with no retirement payouts, though the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) required their employers to deposit employee retirement funds.
The laid-off workers launched a series of demonstrations and in the end, the CLA decided to provide retirement payouts to these workers in the form of loans, but promised that it would ask the employers, not the employees, to repay the debts.
“We workers from Dong-ling were the last to accept the deal, because we were worried that we would become indebted,” Chen said. “The CLA minister at the time, Hsu Chieh-kui (許介圭), told us not to worry, saying that the council would ask the employers to repay the loans. I remember very clearly that he said: ‘The government is here to help the workers, why would the government sue you?’”
However, because the CLA failed to secure repayment of the debts from the employers, “bringing a lawsuit against us is exactly what the government is doing to us now,” Chen said.
Although the “solution” that the CLA proposed at the time turned out not to have solved the problem at all, Chen said CLA officials at the time at least appeared to be more concerned.
“Hsu came out to see us after we were 28 hours into our hunger strike in front of the CLA building 16 years ago, but current CLA Minister Pan Shih-wei [潘世偉] simply ignores us,” she said.
Taiwan International Workers’ Association secretary-general Chen Hsiu-lien (陳秀蓮) said the laid-off workers had urged the council to negotiate with them long before starting their hunger strike.
“We’ve prepared a list of 16 negotiators and have called on the CLA several times since April 9, but the council never responds. It goes on with its discounted repayment plan instead,” Chen Hsiu-lien said, referring to presentation sessions organized by the council about a plan it proposed to give 70 percent, 80 percent, or 90 percent discounts on workers’ debts depending on the age, health and finances of each worker.
“We would not accept the plan because we are entitled to what we got. Why should we give it back?” 61-year-old laid-off Dong-ling employee Chien Su-ching (簡素卿) said. “It’s the CLA’s job to make sure that our employer has prepared retirement money for us. The problem occurred because the CLA failed to do its job, so why should we shoulder the consequences of the CLA’s mistake?”
“I’ve never owed a penny in taxes or even on a traffic ticket. It is ironic that the first time I have to go to court in my life is because I am being sued by the CLA, which is supposed to protect us laborers,” she added.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a CLA official said the council has no plan so far to change its policy or to meet with demonstrating workers.
“I’m sure the workers wouldn’t want us to just show up and say hi and would want some actual change in our policy,” the official said. “If that’s the case, I don’t think there’s a need for us to meet with them.”