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Labor Day protest highlights workers' problems

2012/05/01 21:36:59

Taipei, May 1 (CNA) Over 2,000 protestors took part in a Labor Day demonstration against poverty and exploitation in Taipei on Tuesday, citing excessive working hours, irregular working shifts, stagnant wages and rising living costs as some of the problems they are facing.

The protest, which began at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, was one of several held in the city on Labor Day to call for better working conditions and policies.

Medical students, nurses, temporary workers, college students, foreign workers and members of trade unions around Taiwan shouted slogans and held banners that read "abnormal work schedules cause burn out," and "rising gas and electricity costs, frozen wages."

"We think nurses have to stand up instead of letting scholars, experts or health officials decide our fate," said Liang Hsiu-mei, from the Taiwan Radical Nurses Union, one of the 50-plus groups that joined the protest.

"These people (decision makers) may have a nursing background, but the nursing environment is completely different from what it was 10-20 years ago," said Liang. "We're inviting them to come to the hospitals and see what it's like not being able to eat your lunch until after four in the afternoon."

Liang said nurses want to take part in Department of Health meetings that decide nursing policies.

Wang Yun-hsu, another union official, said nurses are calling for an end to irregular work shifts that often require them to work until midnight and return to work at eight the next morning.

"This abnormal work schedule is in contravention of Article 34 of the Labor Standards Act," said Wang, adding that the Council of Labor Affairs cannot shirk its responsibility.

The act stipulates that in cases of night and day shifts, workers should be rotated on a weekly basis.

Although the article also states that exceptions can be made if workers agree to the arrangement, individual nurses are powerless to object to hospital rules and are forced to comply, Wang said.

Meanwhile medical student protestors said they were calling on the labor council and health department to bring all doctors and medical interns under the protection of the Labor Standards Act.

"We cannot take good care of patients if we have to work 30 hours without sleep," said Chen, a medical intern at a local hospital.

He said the death of a medical intern last April, allegedly from overwork, had motivated students like him to take to the streets.

The groups also protested against other issues such as the use of contract workers in government agencies and a proposal to "delink" the minimum wage for domestic and foreign workers.

The demonstrators also called for the abolition of a system under which employees are required to complete their assigned tasks daily, no matter how long it takes.

The protestors gathered at Liberty Square at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall then marched to National Taiwan University Hospital, the Ministry of Education, the Legislature and the Cabinet.

(By Christie Chen)