About 200 people yesterday marched in Taipei to demand that the government improve safety measures for firefighters and better protect migrant workers from fire hazards in their workplaces and living quarters.
Following a deadly fire in April at a factory in Taoyuan run by Chin-Poon Industrial Co (敬鵬工業), which killed two Thai workers and five firefighters, labor rights advocates and environmental activists organized a series of protests demanding that the government improve the rights of firefighters and migrant workers, and make information about hazardous chemicals in factories more readily available.
“Although in the past month the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Labor and the Environmental Protection Administration have all proposed plans to review regulations and amend laws following the fire, their plans are insufficient, as they do not meet all the needs of many local and foreign workers, and do not ensure the availability of important information regarding hazardous chemicals,” the National Association for Firefighters’ Rights, Taiwan International Workers’ Association, Taoyuan City Confederation of Trade Unions, Green Citizens’ Action Alliance and other groups said in a joint statement yesterday.
The groups, which organized yesterday’s march, have been urging the government to allow firefighters to form unions; separate workers’ dorms from factory complexes; offer translations of labor laws and regulations in more foreign languages; and require that factory owners release information about their hazardous chemicals and assist with fire rescues.
Before the fire at Chin-Poon Industrial Co, a fire at the Sican Co (矽卡有限公司) factory in December last year killed six Vietnamese workers, Hope Workers’ Center member Hsu Wei-tung (許維棟) said during a rally in front of the Ministry of Labor before the march.
“Those accidents did not happen by chance, but were caused by human error. They could have been avoided. The dorms were built on the top of factory complexes to save money. Two hundred to 300 migrant workers were forced to live together in a dorm with no windows and just one exit,” he said.
Protesters joined the march to tell the government that they would not choose economic development over human rights and the environment, he said.
“We have previously collected more than 5,000 signatures from firefighters across the nation calling for the government to assign the tasks of catching snakes and removing bee hives to agricultural agencies,” said Lan Yu-chieh (藍毓傑), a member of the National Association for Firefighters’ Rights.
Although more than half of the nation’s firefighters supported the proposal, the representative from the Executive Yuan rejected it on the grounds that firefighters are not regular workers and do not have the right to bargain collectively, Lan said, adding that they should be allowed form their own unions to better protect their rights.
After the rally, protesters marched to the Ministry of the Interior and the Executive Yuan.
The ministry takes workers’ and firefighters’ opinions seriously and is working with related agencies to safeguard the labor rights and ensure workplace safety, the ministry said in a statement.
It is discussing with the Ministry of Civil Service, Executive Yuan, National Police Agency and National Fire Agency whether to allow police officers and firefighters to form unions, it said.
All the executive branches have agreed that the Civil Servant Association Act (公務人員協會法) should be amended to better protect the right to freedom of association for police officers, firefighters and other civil servants, the ministry said.
While the Foreign Worker’s Care Service Plan has already been translated into many languages and has been available for download since Friday last week, the ministry would provide translations of the Handbook for Foreign Workers in Taiwan in more languages, it said.
It would hold meetings within a few weeks to discuss whether to require companies to separate migrant workers’ dorms from factory complexes, it added.
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