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State-run company workers take to the streets, demand dignity

2012/05/10 22:13:07

Taipei, May 10 (CNA) Over 10,000 employees from Taiwan's state-run oil, power, water and sugar companies took to the streets Thursday, demanding dignity amid recent public outcry over fuel and electricity price hikes.

"We support reforms for our company and ask that the public give us back our dignity," said Hu Kuo-kang, chief of the labor union of Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower).

He said employees at his company are taking to the streets because they want to tell the government that they are "determined" to bring about reform, have the confidence to do so and are "willing to make changes."

Taipower employees hope that the government will immediately increase electricity costs for industrial use and postpone the hikes for household use, Hu said.

He said Taipower subsidizes businesses to the tune of NT$40 billion (US$1.36 billion) worth of electricity each year and it is time to stop such "preferential treatment".

The company's employees also hope the government will investigate Taipower's coal procurement practices and take legal action if any irregularities are found, or free the company of blame if nothing illegal is discovered, he said.

Taipower has been questioned about its procurement of coal from abroad. However, the company said that the government's procurement act prevents public disclosure of the contract.

At the protest, the union chief said the union supports "100 percent privatization" of Taipower.

Taipower's operations have recently come under heavy scrutiny and criticisms of inefficiency and its losses are blamed for the electricity rate hikes of up to 35 percent announced in April.

In response to public criticism, the government assigned a task force on April 9 to review the performance of Taipower and the state-run oil company CPC Corp., Taiwan.

But Hu said the government task force is an "insult" to the company and that the employees "do not want anything to do with it."

Instead, he said, the labor union is planning to convene its own task force, consisting exclusively of its members, to push for reforms in the company.

The union is urging employees to report any irregularities within the company, he said.

He said the union will release its version of the reform plan after the government-led task force completes its report.

He said many employees at his company are distressed that they are being blamed for the price hikes and that their hard work is not being recognized.

If the public continues its "unreasonable accusations," Taipower employees will have to consider whether they want to "rush to repair electrical cables" next time there is a typhoon, he said.

Meanwhile, Chuang Chueh-an, chief of the Taiwan Petroleum Workers' Union, said when the government announced the increases in petroleum prices in April, it did not tell the public that oil and electricity prices are set by government authorities, "not by employees of Taipower and CPC Corp."

He said the public's criticisms have greatly affected the employees at the state-run companies, "who are also suffering as a result of rising living costs."

The Taipei Police Department estimated that over 10,000 protestors attended the rally in front of the Presidential Office.

(By Christie Chen)