Taipei, April 30 (CNA) Labor groups vowed on the eve of Labor Day to stage protests to express their anger at the government for low salaries, overwork and the system of using temporary workers hired through manpower brokers.
On Labor Day last year, labor groups asked the government to protect their working conditions, close the gap between rich and poor and assist the underprivileged, improve their living standards and pass legislation to ban the "dispatched" worker system.
A year has passed, but the problems remain, the groups said, and those issues, combined with rising consumer prices due to increases in fuel prices and planned electricity rate hikes, have only heightened the voices of protest.
Medical personnel were the first to stage a protest in front of the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) last week and said they wanted their lives back and their time off rather than money.
On calls to lessen the workload of medical personnel, the CLA promised to return to normal working hours under the Labor Standards Act by 2014, though it noted that medical workers aside from people working in emergency wards or intensive care units, returned to normal working hours in March this year.
But medical professionals remained unimpressed and felt that staffing shortages remained extremely serious.
The head nurse at Kaohsiung Municipality United Hospital said Monday, for example, that the hospital owes nurses 1,900 days of leave.
Shih Hsiu-er, director of nursing department of the hospital, said that based on the calculation of 20 days of work per month, the hospital needs to add another eight people to absorb the massive amount of time off the hospital owed to its nurses.
Those pressures explain why medical workers will likely have a voice in Tuesday's protests.
The Taiwan Labor Front will be staging various skits to call attention to the plight faced by laborers at the grassroots level.
An anti-exploitation demonstration, mainly comprised of students of medical colleges, nurses and university club members and dispatched workers, will also be held Tuesday.
The CLA tried to set the tone for upholding the rights of laborers early this year by promoting employment and taking care of the underprivileged.
Labor Minister Wang Ju-hsuan reaffirmed that minimum wages would increase and would apply to locals and foreign laborers.
Also, when businesses began furloughing their workers in the second half of 2011 due to the European debt crisis, the CLA introduced a program for employees to take part in various training programs.
But just as those gains were made and companies pulled back on furloughs as orders returned, workers now face higher consumer prices triggered by the increase in fuel prices and planned hikes in electricity rates.
On grassroots laborers' complaints about low wages, Wang stressed that the minimum wage "is bound to increase" and hourly pay will be adjusted upward to NT$115.
"The increase will not be lower than the consumer price index," Wang vowed, noting, however, that the agency would also take into consideration the possible impact of higher wages on small- and medium-sized enterprises to prevent mandating higher pay for low-wage workers only to have them end up losing their jobs.
Businesses, worried about steep hikes in electricity, said those cost increases will make it even harder for them to pay their workers more and help the government raise workers' standards.
C. K. Lee, chairman and CEO of King Yuan Electronics Co. said Monday that if the government would hold off on its plan to hike electricity rates scheduled for mid-May, then the company will have more space to hike the salary of the employees.
(By Zoe Wei, Chung Jung-feng, Wang Shu-feng and Lilian Wu)