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Amid scuffles, DPP pushes controversial labor bill to committee

2017/11/17 19:42:23

Taipei, Nov. 17 (CNA) A controversial bill aimed at making existing labor laws more "flexible" was sent to legislative committees on Friday amid jostling and scuffling between ruling and opposition lawmakers.

The bill proposed by the Democratic Progressive Party government, designed to deal with the widespread complaints over the revisions to the Labor Standards Act the same DPP government passed in December 2016, was sent to committee after a vote held by Legislative Speaker Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全).

Taking advantage of their big majority in the Legislature, DPP lawmakers decided to have the bill submitted to the social welfare, environmental hygiene and economic affairs committees for a joint review.

DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) said the committees are expected to begin the review on Nov. 20 at the earliest.

Once the bill passes the review, it will be put to a final vote, a result labor unions strongly oppose because they see the DPP government-sponsored amendment to the Labor Standards Act as backsliding on labor rights.

One of the major revisions in the new bill is a change to the current rule that bars employees from working more than six consecutive days.

The new version will make it possible for employees to work 12 days in a row, by taking their "mandatory" day off per week on either side of the 12-day period.

The revision stipulates, however, that a business sector proposing such a change must seek the consent of the government agency supervising it and approval from the Ministry of Labor (MOL), while an individual enterprise needs to secure the consent of its workers or labor union.

Opposition Kuomintang (KMT) lawmakers opposed having the controversial bill sent to committee before receiving an assessment of the revisions from the Ministry of Labor and holding a full hearing of the Legislature on it to determine if it was ready for a review.

KMT lawmaker Lin Wei-chou (林為洲) said earlier in the day that the ministry has not yet completed its assessment of how many workers will be affected by the amendments and what businesses will benefit from the "flexibility" the government claims the bill offers.

Without having any idea of the new bill's impact, Lin wondered if this "new amendment will be like the one last time" in late 2016 that was rammed through the DPP-dominated Legislature and led to severe damage to labor-management relations and now requires changes.

To prevent the bill from being sent to the various committees for review, Lin and his KMT colleagues occupied the podium of the meeting at 9:25 a.m.

About an hour and five minutes later, however, DPP lawmakers stormed the podium, pulling and shoving their rivals away from it.

During the chaos, the KMT's Chiang Wan-An (蔣萬安) was able to lean forward to grab the podium's microphone but was soon pulled away. The DPP controls 68 of the 113 seats in the Legislature, while the KMT has 35.

According to the newest agenda published by the Legislative Yuan, a review to the Labor Standards Act amendments by the Environmental Hygiene Committee has been set for next Monday, two days before a public hearing on Nov. 22, worrying labor groups.

Taiwan Higher Education Union researcher Chen Po-chien (陳柏謙) said labor unions fear the bill will be sent directly for a second and third reading as soon as the committee review is completed without undergoing a one-month-long "cooling-off" period as required according to legislative procedures.

Without the cooling-off period, the bill could clear the legislative floor by late November or early December, before a planned massive protest rally by labor unions on Dec. 23, Chen said.

He said discussions will be held on whether or not to hold the protest earlier.

Taiwan Labor Front Secretary-General Sun Yu-lien (孫友聯) blasted the DPP's haste in dealing with the controversial amendment as "disregarding procedural justice," which he described as "despicable."

(By Justine Su, Liu Kuan-ting, Yu Hsiao-han and Elizabeth Hsu)