WORKERS UNITE:The Ministry of Labor said it would consider lowering the 30-employee threshold to form a company union, but reject calls for the right to strike
By Abraham Gerber / Staff reporter
Labor rights advocates perform a skit outside the Ministry of Labor in Taipei yesterday, accusing the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party of restricting the power of labor unions during their time in office.
Photo: Huang Pang-ping, Taipei Times
Restrictions should be dropped to allow unions to serve as a strong independent political voice, a coalition of labor rights campaigners said yesterday in a protest outside the Ministry of Labor in Taipei.
Campaigners from the Labor Struggle Front, an alliance of labor groups, enacted a skit depicting people being wrapped in layers of blue-and-green paper, symbolizing what they called attempts by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party to limit union independence, while seeking to infiltrate and control unions.
“Workers do not have a voice in Taiwanese society because we’ve been restricted — there is a hand on our neck which does not let us utter a sound,” National Alliance for Workers of Closed Factories member Lu Chih-hung (盧其宏) said, referring to the lack of the right to strike, which he said has prevented workers’ voices from being heard on major political issues.
Wu Chia-hung (吳嘉浤), another alliance member, said strikes can only by conducted by company unions on an individual basis when salary negotiations break down.
Unions are banned from coordinating industrywide or politically focused strikes, he said.
Taipei City Confederation of Trade Unions chairman Cheng Ya-hui (鄭雅慧) said that restrictions on coordinating general strikes limited confederations to serving as advisers to individual company unions.
Only with the power to coordinate strikes can the confederation direct resources and personnel to support individual company strikes, she said.
Activists added that union membership threshold requirements should be eased to allow employees of small firms to be organized so long as a third join the company union.
Current rules require at least 30 employees to join before a company union can be organized.
Taoyuan Confederation of Trade Unions chairman Chuang Fu-kai (莊福凱) said that workers lack national influence because of low union membership, which in turn can be attributed to the lack of unions in small and medium-sized firms.
Such firms make up 70 percent of all companies, activists said.
The requirement that unions include at least 30 employees makes it impossible to form unions in small and medium-sized firms, which average only 4.6 workers, Chuang said.
Industries that do not have unions include dangerous occupations, such as construction, Taiwan Association for Victims of Occupation Injuries president Yu Chi-wen (游其文) said.
Assisting workers involved in occupational injury disputes in firms that do not have unions is difficult because only unions are legally entitled to participate in injury investigations, along with the government and the corporation, he said.
The Ministry of Labor said it would consider lowering the 30-employee threshold as part of revisions to the Labor Union Act (工會法), while rejecting the possibility of allowing general strikes.
The right to strike is only meant to allow workers to fight for improvements to their contractual working terms, it said, adding that few nations allow politically motivated general strikes.