SHOUTING MATCH:Lawmakers from the KMT and the NPP briefly scuffled and called each other parasites after a scheduled review session failed to take place
By Abraham Gerber / Staff reporter
New Power Party (NPP) Legislator Hung Tzu-yung, second left, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Hsu Shu-hua, third left, and NPP caucus convener Hsu Yung-ming, fourth right, fight for the microphone in a meeting room at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei yesterday.
Efforts to push ahead with proposed amendments to the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) stalled yesterday after a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator failed to show up for a review.
DPP Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬), co-convener of the Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee, was supposed to chair yesterday’s meeting.
New Power Party (NPP) legislators arrived hours ahead of the scheduled meeting to occupy the speaker’s podium and “hold a place” for Lin.
They refused to relinquish control to DPP Legislator Wu Yu-chin (吳玉琴), who said that Lin had authorized her to chair the meeting, demanding that Wu present a written statement of authorization.
“We say that [Lin] Shu-fen is unwilling to open today’s meeting to avoid endorsing the ruling party’s ‘flexible day off’ policy, but if she does not come, the basis for opening the meeting has to be clear,” NPP Legislator Freddy Lim (林昶佐) said.
The Executive Yuan has proposed a “flexible day off” policy that would guarantee a five-day work week when combined with the existing “mandatory day off” provision, but the idea has been criticized by workers’ rights activists, who said employees could still have to work overtime on their “flexible” days off days.
A reduction in national public holidays for workers benefiting from the proposal are expected if the proposed amendments pass.
“Lin is the co-convener who sent out the meeting notice and prepared the entrance permits. We would allow her to chair the meeting if she comes,” NPP Executive Chairman Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) said.
DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) was “living in his own world” by saying that party caucuses had the right to approve an interim committee chairman, Huang said.
“You can say that you have authorization [from Lin], but I could say the same. How can you persuade me, unless she steps forward?” he said.
Wu said that Lin had asked her during Wednesday’s legislative floor session to chair the meeting.
DPP legislators were “stunned” by the NPP’s occupation of the podium, Wu said.
“[Lin] Shu-fen has her own ideas, some of which have changed during this process,” she said, adding that a written statement of authorization had not been prepared because such a formality had not been needed before.
After failing to reach a resolution with their NPP colleagues, Ker, DPP caucus director-general Wu Ping-jui (吳秉叡) and the other DPP legislators left the committee room. They returned more than an hour later after a private meeting with Minister of Labor Kuo Fan-yu (郭芳煜) to say that the meeting would be postponed.
“Today has shown that people have different views, so it is not a problem for us to pick another day to allow more talks to be held,” Ker said against a background of drumming and shouting from people protesting on the street outside the building.
“Although I feel that the Legislative Yuan has the authority to appoint an interim committee chair, I also do not think it is necessary for us to spend time debating such a minor procedural matter,” he said.
His announcement drew jeers from Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators.
The KMT had sent more than 10 legislators, including several who serve on other committees, who arrived in their trademark blue “battle” shirts for what was expected to be a drawn-out fight over the proposed amendment.
“If the committee meeting is not going to be held, why set the agenda in the first place,” KMT Legislator Lin Wei-chou (林為洲) said. “We did not stop this meeting, the DPP’s own convener failed to show up for a review of their own version of the amendment, for an agenda passed by the DPP itself.”
The interlude between the DPP lawmakers leaving the room and Ker’s announcement was marked by shouting matches between NPP and KMT legislators, including a brief scuffle that broke out after KMT lawmakers encircled NPP lawmakers occupying the convener’s podium.
Lawmakers from both sides called each other “parasites” and accused each other of “putting on a show.”
NPP Legislator Hung Tzu-yung (洪慈庸), who holds the party’s sole Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee seat, said she welcomed the delay, although yesterday’s agenda had included a review of the NPP’s proposed amendments.
“The reason why we took action today is because we feel that the national government has not done enough to communicate with civil society about the proposed changes,” she said.
She said a public hearing should be held before the amendments are reviewed.
Failure to pass the DPP’s amendment yesterday is likely to delay its deliberation for at least a month, with the remaining days of the extraordinary legislative session taken up by general assembly meetings.
In related news, hunger strikers protesting against the DPP amendment announced outside the Legislative Yuan that they had ended their 52-hour fast, but promised more protests and marches to deter a “surprise” passage of the amendment next month after the extraordinary session concludes.
Protesters’ allegations that the DPP is siding with big business with its proposed amendment were rebutted by DPP Legislator Lee Chun-yi (李俊俋).
“We are not bowing to pressure from large corporations, because having two fixed holidays every week does not really have that much of an impact on them, but it could have a serious effect on small and medium-sized businesses [SMEs], which are the dominant businesses in the nation,” Lee said during an interview.
SMEs on average have about 20 employees or less, and therefore would need a more flexible way of planning work shifts, Lee said.
“A mandatory requirement that every employee has two days off per week might cause serious problems to production lines, yet, due to their smaller size, most of them cannot afford to hire extra people,” Lee said. “So we have proposed a compromise to allow employers to have more flexibility in planning shifts, while asking them to pay more overtime to those who work on their flexible rest day.”
The DPP expected to be criticized by both businesses and workers’ rights groups, “but when you are in power, you just have to look at an issue from all the angles to work out something that might benefit all parties,” he said.