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Workers brave rain to march against low pay on Labor Day

2014/05/01 18:48:38

Taipei, May 1 (CNA) Members of dozens of trade unions, labor rights groups and student groups took to the streets on Labor Day despite a constant stream of rain to protest against low pay and the use of dispatched temporary workers.

By 4 p.m. Thursday, thousands of protesters had arrived at the Ministry of Labor, where they briefly engaged in a shoving match with police officers standing in front of the building's barred front entrance. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Protesters began gathering at noon on Ketagalan Boulevard, the road that leads to the Presidential Office. By 1 p.m., hundreds of protesters in raincoats had crowded onto the boulevard to raise signs and shout slogans: "oppose low pay" and "oppose dispatch work."

Their numbers swelled around 2 p.m. as they marched toward the Ministry of Labor on Yanping N. Rd., some 2 kilometers to the north. Organizers estimated that over 10,000 people participated in the rally.

Government data showed monthly wages averaging NT$44,739 (US$1,483) in 2013, lower than the average of NT$44,798 in 1998 when inflation is taken into account.

In addition to low wages and widespread use of dispatch workers, there were calls to oppose trade liberalization, privatization of state enterprises and bank mergers as they demanded better labor conditions and protections.

Tai Kuo-jung, general-secretary of the Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions, said these are just some of the concerns of Taiwanese workers.

The current working conditions "could harm the country's national competitiveness, create national security problems and reduce government revenue," Tai told CNA. "The public should discuss this issue rationally because it may have a serious impact on Taiwan's future economic development and national competitiveness."

Dispatch workers do not enjoy the same benefits, bonuses, entitlement to annual leave and opportunities for promotion as full-time employees, and they may very well never be able to afford a home, Tai said.

"There is no future for them."

A 52-year-old protester who wished not to be named said he has been working odd jobs since a shipping company that employed him was privatized in 1997, leaving many of its workers suddenly out of a job.

"I do sporadic jobs and my life has been unstable," he said. "I hope the government can do something about the economy so that we can have full-time jobs."

Huang Yu-te, secretary-general of the Tainan Confederation of Trade Unions and spokesman for the rally, argued the government's push for trade liberalization will be good for corporations but not necessarily for workers, and it could result in an increase of exploitative practices.

He admitted, however, that some workers have expressed support for the trade-in-services pact with China.

Since both protesters for and against the service trade pact have joined the march, Huang said organizers have decided not to openly oppose the pact, but rather to allow protesters to voice their own opinions.

Some of the leaders of the Sunflower Movement that occupied the Legislature over the China pact were also present at the rally, including Lin Fei-fan and Wei Yang, but they did not take center stage this time around.

(By Christie Chen; click here for the updated story)