‘GUAVA CHECKS’:Protesters including nurses and police officers complained of being made to work excessive hours and said that legislation meant to help them was toothless
By Stacy Hsu / Staff reporter
Campaigners throw papier-mache guavas at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei yesterday, demanding an end to overwork, long working hours, stagnant salaries and the employment of temporary workers. “Guava check” is Taiwanese slang for a bounced check, and, by extension, an unfulfilled promise.
Tens of thousands of labor union members and workers from various industries yesterday braved intermittent rain and took to the streets in Taipei on International Workers’ Day, demanding an immediate end to overwork, long working hours, stagnant salaries and the employment of temporary workers.
Holding flags and signs outlining their demands, more than 10,000 nurses, police officers, firefighters, migrant workers, flight attendants, pilots, teachers and finance workers gathered along Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office Building yesterday afternoon to protest against work exploitation and accuse the government of having turned a blind eye to their predicaments.
“We workers are no fools,” Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions director-general Chuang Chueh-an (莊爵安), the leader of the rally, told the large crowd of protesters.
“The government has rolled out several draft bills concerning basic-level employees since the nine-in-one elections and the awakening of civic groups last year … but without a stiff penalty and a government agency overseeing corporations, these bills will only end up creating more loopholes for employers,” Chuang said.
Singling out amendments to the so-called “four laws for pay raises” recently proposed by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), Taoyuan County Confederation of Trade Unions chairman Chuang Fu-kai (莊福凱) said that even if the four draft bills were passed, they would still not be binding on corporations because there were no penalties stipulated for non-compliance.
“If corporations refuse to negotiate with labor unions and workers, there is nothing the government can do about it,” Chuang Fu-kai said. “These draft bills are just another ‘guava check’ issued by the government and legislators that aims only to attract votes and does workers no good.”
Guava check (芭樂票) is a common colloquial Taiwanese term used to refer to bounced checks or broken promises.
Chuang Fu-kai was referring to draft amendments to the Company Act (公司法), the Factory Act (工廠法), the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) and the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act (中小企業發展條例).
If passed, they would require companies to distribute profits, if any, to employees in the form of pay increases and bonuses. Tax cuts would also be provided for firms that offer salary increases to their employees.
Walking at the head of the rally — which set out from Ketagalan Boulevard at about 2pm and ended in front of the Legislative Yuan at about 3:30pm — were medical personnel, firefighters, police officers, flight attendants and foreign workers, because they are commonly perceived as the most exploited groups of employees in the nation.
A 23-year-old nurse, who wished to be identified only by her surname Chang (張), said there was a time during her previous employment at the Taipei Veterans General Hospital’s Hsinchu Branch that she passed out after her heavy workload allowed her to consume only a bottle of juice the entire day.
“Most of the time, only two nurses were on duty in the emergency department due to a severe personnel shortage. Not only were our health and well-being in jeopardy because of this, but also the lives of our patients,” Chang said.
Another 23-year-old hospital nurse, named Huang Yi-hsuan (黃奕萱), said her job often required her to work 16 hours straight and that she has been rushed to an emergency room three times since she started her current job due to exhaustion.
“Hospital authorities never understand the amount of pressure and work we face on a daily basis. All they care about is profit,” Huang said, adding that she was thinking about finding a less stressful job in the medical aesthetics industry.
A 28-year-old man surnamed Chen (陳), who identified himself as the close acquaintance of a police officer, said that because of staff shortages, police officers suffer from working hours that last as long as 12 hours a day and add up to 88 hours a month.
“Police work requires a high level of focus and often involves dangerous tasks. Having them work long hours is as hazardous as asking an exhausted surgeon to perform a delicate, complex surgery,” Chen said.
After arriving in front of the Legislative Yuan, protesters pelted papier-mache guavas toward the building in a symbolic gesture of giving back the “guava checks” to lawmakers.