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Against the odds, young people keep up fight against labor bill

2018/01/09 15:34:24

Taipei, Jan. 9 (CNA) They knew there was little chance of stopping passage of controversial labor law revisions, but young people still braved the cold and wet outside the Legislative Yuan on Monday night to make themselves heard.

They are among many who strongly oppose a government-sponsored amendment to the Labor Standards Act, which is scheduled for a final floor vote Tuesday to clear the Legislature where the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) holds the majority of seats.

As night fell Monday, pouring rain drenched the participants of the protest that began at 9 a.m. that morning, but they stayed on site even though they could only take shelter under umbrellas or raincoats.

Vivi Sun (孫玉薇), a 25-year-old graduate student in labor research at National Chengchi University, was one of the few hundred protesters there at around 10:30 p.m. Most of them were young people.

"Many people think that taking to the streets won't change anything, but in the face of a terrible policy, as a citizen, the only thing we can do is to speak out, again and again, to have our voices heard," Sun told CNA.

Vivi Sun

Compared with people who have long fought for labor rights, sitting in heavy rain "was nothing," said Sun, who carried little more than a placard stating her concerns that the passage of the amendment would leave workers vulnerable to overwork and less rest.

"If you ask me why I don't want to go back to sleep, it's because I'm worried that if the amendment is passed, I could only work and overwork, having no time to sleep even though I have a bed," it stated.

The amendment is designed to increase flexibility in work hours, under which employees could be asked to work for 12 days in a row and have a mandatory break of just eight hours between shifts if conditions are met.

Currently, employees cannot work more than six days in a row, and the minimum rest time required between shifts is 11 hours.

The amendment would also allow up to 54 hours of overtime per month, from the current 46 hours, but cap it at 138 hours in a three-month period.

Fan Tzu-chi, 25, who joined the overnight protest in the student-led Sunflower Movement against the then Kuomintang government's handling of the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement in 2014, was among the young protesters.

"The proposed revisions to the law would make people overwork to the point of not having a life. I don't want to see people just live to work," Fan said.

Fan said the conditions of employment provided in the law are the lowest standards. "If we want to improve work conditions, the standards should be raised to a higher level, not the other way around," she said.

Another young protester who gave her name as Yeh said she felt sad about the protest's low turnout. "The passage of the amendment would entail many social problems. We can't just turn a blind eye to that."

A documentary worker, Yeh said she has seen cases of how overwork adversely affect society, citing patient safety affected by work-related fatigue among medical personnel and the loss of parental time with children.

"The government has vowed to address the problem of low birth rate, but when people are trapped in low wages and don't have time to take care of their children, isn't that just lip service?" said Yeh, who had camped outside the Legislature during the Sunflower movement.

Also a participant in the Sunflower Movement, 29-year-old Alexander Wang, a graduate student in biology, told CNA he joined the protest against the labor law amendment with great sadness.

"Rules on work hours are human rights issues. Workers need sufficient rest to take care of themselves. Their salary is not high. When they retire, most of them do not enjoy a secure retirement pension and are likely to sustain occupational injuries resulting from overtime work," he said.

One of the rationales cited by the government in support of the amendment is that it would benefit workers because it would give them enough hours of work to increase their income. That is unacceptable, Wang said.

"To resolve the problem of working poverty, the government should facilitate wage increases and profit-sharing, not giving more legal leeway for employers to further exploit low-paid workers," he said.

Wang said he was also disillusioned at seeing the Legislative Yuan complex being tightly surrounded by barricades.

"It's hard to imagine that there were so many layers of barricades erected in the years since the Sunflower Movement," Wang said. "People are not enemies of the government."

Social Democratic Party joins the overnight protest.

Solidarity Labor Union secretary-general Huang Yu-te (黃育德), an organizer of the May 1 Action Coalition which staged the protest, told CNA Tuesday morning that dozens of people camped out in tents overnight.

The DPP is expected to call a floor vote later Tuesday to pass the amendment.

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan)