The Next TV Workers’ Union yesterday threatened to go on strike as it accused the network of trying to curtail reporters’ benefits in order to reduce company losses.
The network, which was previously owned by Next Media, was purchased by ERA Communications last year.
Saying ERA had canceled many of the workers’ benefits, the union passed a resolution last week making it legitimate to go on strike. It became the first television network whose workers had approved the legal right to strike.
The union further demanded that ERA not unilaterally cancel paid leave and holidays previously enjoyed by Next TV employees — including Labor Day, 12 days of sick leave and three typhoon holidays.
Union president Cheng Yi-ping (鄭一平) said he stopped getting assignments and was demoted from his position as a television reporter to working full-time as union president after the union approved the resolution.
“Some of the senior management officials have met with employees over the past two days and tried to persuade them to let this matter go. They said employees would be compensated in other ways for canceled paid leave, and that everybody would be out of work if the employer decides to close the company if the conflict continues. They were using this tactic to intimidate union members so that they would not go on strike,” he said.
Cheng said workers in Next TV’s engineering department have been asked to sign a consent form stating that they are ERA employees, and the company is scheduled to collect all the forms this afternoon.
This is another move by ERA to prevent a strike because a majority of the engineering department workers are union members, he said.
Cheng added that ERA has neither tried to negotiate nor communicate with union members since the union passed the resolution. Instead, it is pressuring union members to stop fighting for their rights, he said.
“We have been proud to call ourselves a gutsy television network that dares to report issues that no other media dare to cover, but who will believe our news reports if we have an employer like this?” he asked.
Cheng said the union has filed a complaint with the Ministry of Labor accusing ERA of inappropriate conduct.
In response, ERA Communications assistant manager Chen Yong-ren (陳勇仁) said the company has never made any announcement that it is transfering Cheng to a different position, and it only wanted Cheng to focus on facilitating communication between the union and the firm during this period.
Chen added that management had begun negotiations with the union on Monday and denied that the company plans to use other means to compensate workers for canceled holidays or has threatened to dissolve the company.
Chen defended the company’s decision to move workers at Next TV’s engineering department to ERA’s, saying it was a strategic move to protect employees at Next TV.
“Next TV is still in debt and short of cash,” Chen said. “These employees will return to Next TV as soon as the network becomes profitable again.”
Chen added that the company would not let the planned strike disrupt Next TV’s operations.
Chan Yi-lien (詹懿廉), a specialist at the National Communications Commission’s (NCC) communication management department, said that one of the conditions under which the commission approved the sale of Next TV to ERA Communications was that Next TV and ERA TV would remain separate networks and have different reporting styles.
She said that the ERA was also asked to recruit enough reporters for Next TV’s news department, and the commission had confirmed in March that the company had fulfilled this commitment.
“Even though the commission has mandated that they remain separate networks, it does not mean they cannot share engineering resources. However, we still need to find out more information from the company about the personnel changes in the engineering department,” she said.
Sources familiar with the dispute said that Next TV can continue to function despite the potential strike as only one-third of its employees are union members.
Taipei City’s Department of Labor said the union has the right to appeal to the Ministry of Labor if it thinks its employer has attempted to interfere in the union’s operation.
The Association of Taiwan Journalists said that the ERA has failed to fulfill the promises it made when it acquired Next TV.
The association added that it is gathering evidence and will report its findings to the NCC on Sept.1, when the nation observes Journalists’ Day.
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