Having camped outside the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) for eight days and been ignored by officials, more than 100 laid-off workers launched a wheelchair march yesterday, while some of the protesters remained at the council’s headquarters to continue with their hunger strike.
The laid-off workers started marching to the New Taipei City (新北市) District Court and are to continue to the Taoyuan District Court, where most of their cases are being handled.
“We want to show them that, even though these workers may not in the best physical condition, they do not fear lawsuits filed against them by the Council of Labor Affairs and they will fight until the end,” Taiwan International Workers’ Association secretary-general Chen Hsiu-lien (陳秀蓮) said.
“It was the government’s fault that they did not make sure that these workers’ employers had prepared retirement funds for them, so the workers will not repay a penny of the money they received [from the council] 16 years ago,” he added.
In the 1990s, hundreds of workers lost their jobs when several factories closed, many of them owing several months’ back salaries. Unable to get their retirement payouts or salaries from their employers, the workers staged a series of demonstrations. Eventually the council proposed to give the laid-off workers retirement payments in the form of loans, and promised that it would ask their employers to repay the money.
However, the council last year began to file lawsuits against the workers, asking them to repay the loans because the council had failed to get their employers to repay the debt. This triggered a new wave of protests by the workers.
After an eight-day camp-in in front of the council, with some protesters on hunger strike, which received no response from officials, laid-off workers who were not on hunger strike and their supporters decided yesterday to start marching.
Fifty workers in wheelchairs were pushed along by 50 student volunteers, while other protesters followed behind them.
“[The workers] are just getting what they deserve and the CLA [at the time] promised that they would not have to repay the loans — there’s no doubt about it, because it was even broadcast on the news at the time,” said Kuo Hsun-yeh (郭璇燁), a senior student from National Taipei College of Business.
“It makes no sense that the council is breaking its promise now, and that’s why I have to come and give them my support,” he said.
Liu Yi-chun (柳毅群), a senior student from Tung Hai University’s Department of Social Work, said he and his classmates volunteered to push the wheelchairs because they think the government should not lie.
“About 40 of us left Taichung, where our school is, at 6am this morning by bus to show our support for the workers,” he said.
Before the march started, the protesters went to nearby temples to pray for help, and burned ghost money, asking the immortals to refer the “money” to CLA Minister Pan Shih-wei (潘世偉).
The marchers spent last night in Yingge District (鶯歌), New Taipei City (新北市). They plan to continue the march today to the Taoyuan District Court.
Meanwhile, the National Alliance for Workers of Closed-Off Factories rebutted a remark made by Pan in a radio interview that the laid-off workers have terminated their hunger strike and dispersed, after many of them accepted the council’s discounted repayment program.
A message on the alliance’s official Facebook page said that some protesters are still in front of the council continuing their hunger strike and they are not prepared to compromise.