Taipei, May 1 (CNA) Members of dozens of trade unions, labor rights groups and student groups took to the streets of Taipei on Labor Day, despite constant rain, protesting 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 barricaded 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, holding placards and shouting slogans against "low pay" and "dispatch work."
Their numbers swelled around 2 p.m. as they marched toward the Ministry of Labor on Yanping North Road, some 2 kilometers to the north.
The organizers estimated that over 10,000 people participated in the rally, while the Taipei City police put the number at around 7,500. The rally ended at about 4:30 p.m.
[On Taipei's Guanqian Road.]
Government data showed monthly wages averaging NT$44,739 (US$1,483) in 2013, compared with the inflation adjusted average of NT$44,798 in 1998.
In addition to taking issue with the wage level and the widespread use of dispatch workers, the protesters said they were opposed to trade liberalization, privatization of state enterprises and bank mergers.
They also demanded better labor conditions and protection.
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 hurt 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 serious effects on Taiwan's future economic development and national competitiveness."
Dispatch workers are not entitled to the same benefits, bonuses, annual leave or opportunities for promotion as full-time employees and may never be able to afford a home, Tai said.
"There is no future for them," he added.
[In front of the Ministry of Labor.]
A 52-year-old protester, who asked not to be named, said he has been working odd jobs since he and other employees lost their jobs at a shipping company that was privatized in 1997.
"I work sporadically 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, said the protesters were calling for a law to ban the employment of dispatch workers.
According to a survey by the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, the number of temporary or dispatch workers in Taiwan was 590,000 in May last year.
Huang also argued that the government's push for trade liberalization may be good for corporations but not necessarily for workers, as it could result in more exploitative practices.
Nonetheless, some workers have expressed support for the trade-in-services pact with China, he said.
Huang said that since people for and against the service trade pact were participating in the march, the organizers had decided not to openly make the agreement an issue, but rather to allow protesters to voice their own opinions.
Some of the leaders of the Sunflower Movement that had occupied the Legislature for three weeks in protest againt the China pact were also present at the rally. Lin Fei-fan and Wei Yang were among them but they did not take center stage this time around.
[Sunflower student movement leader Lin Fei-fan (in blue jacket).]
In response to the protesters, the Ministry of Labor said Thursday it will continue to review Taiwan's minimum wage levels and will propose a plan by the end of the year to reduce the maximum number of working hours per week.
As for the issue of dispatch workers, the ministry said it had put forward a draft law in February to protect such workers. The draft law stipulates that dispatch workers should be paid the same wages as full-time employees and the number of dispatch workers should not exceed 3 percent of a company or government agency's workforce.
(By Christie Chen)ENDITEM/WH/pc
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