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Laid-off hunger strikers vow to continue protest

2013/05/05 18:00:48

Taipei, May 5 (CNA) Workers who have been on a hunger strike for more than six days vowed Sunday to continue to protest a government demand for money they received to cover severance and pension payments following factory closures in 1996.

According to the workers, the money was a direct subsidy. According to the government, however, the money was a loan.

An alliance supporting the workers, who were laid off during a series of illegal factory bankruptcies in 1996, said the protesters had so far been on hunger strike outside the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) for 160 hours and that Labor Minister Pan Shih-wei had not come out to meet them.

Three of the people on hunger strike had been taken to hospitals after their physical conditions deteriorated, leaving four individuals remaining in the silent protest as of Sunday afternoon.

The workers refused to accept a subsidy program that the CLA announced in April and demanded negotiations with the council, saying that the government should seek the money from the employers who shut the factories.

The CLA, however, has refused to negotiate with the workers.

Other members of the alliance, which has been protesting since last year, began another round of protest that same morning in wheelchairs. They were scheduled to travel in the wheelchairs for 28 kilometers and to visit the district courts in New Taipei and Taoyuan.

The protesting workers received the disputed money from the government to help them after they were laid off without severance pay or pensions.

In June last year, the CLA told the workers that the money was a loan and demanded repayment of the money, plus interest and a fine for late repayment.

The council then sued the workers who had not paid off the loans. Although the CLA said in late August 2012 that it would suspend legal proceedings temporarily, it still budgeted NT$20 million (US$677,960) in 2013 for litigation costs.

In April, the CLA unveiled a subsidy program that would write off the interest and the late-payment fines and give the workers a 70-90 percent subsidy on their outstanding loans from the government, based on their financial situations and their ability to work.

Meanwhile, Pan said during an interview with a radio station in Hualien County that the protesters outside the CLA had left and he called on them to settle the issue by taking advantage of the subsidy program and avoiding a lawsuit.

Pan said the CLA visited each of the 548 households affected in the layoffs and that as of the previous day, 30 of the workers had applied for the program.

In response, the alliance said on its Facebook page that the hunger strikers are still on strike and called Pan "cold-blooded" and "twisting the fact."

(By Hsu Chih-wei, Zoe Wei, Andrew Liu and Jamie Wang)