Union protest set to paralyze TRA services nationwide on Labor Day
Taipei, April 19 (CNA) Following an earlier announcement that over 90 percent of Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) drivers have vowed not to work on Labor Day, to protest the government's proposed corporatization of the agency, a TRA official said Tuesday such a move would lead to the suspension of train services across Taiwan on the May 1 holiday.
Around 13,000 of TRA's 15,000 employees are union members and after conducting a poll, Taiwan Railway Labor Union (TRLU) earlier announced that more than 90 percent of TRA drivers have vowed not to work on Labor Day.
Update: TRA head confirms service suspension on Labor Day due to union protest (April 24)
Although 1,200 drivers are scheduled to work overtime on Labor Day -- which falls on a Sunday this year, making that weekend a three-day holiday -- fewer than 40 have said they are willing to work, said the agency, which operates Taiwan's only island-wide railway network.
In the worst-case scenario, all train operations -- including tourist trains like the "Future Express" -- would have to be halted, the TRA said. As a result, the agency would also have to compensate travel agencies for being unable to provide services.
The Ministry of Transportation and Communications, which supervises the TRA, said contingency plans to provide passengers with alternative transport amid the expected disruption will be announced on April 22.
Update: Contingency plans for train union's Labor Day protest released (April 22)
The industrial action, initiated by TRLU, involves the union asking its members not to work on Labor Day as they are entitled to do, rather than follow their shift schedule. The union is trying to force the government to recall from the Legislature a draft bill on converting the TRA into a public corporation.
The union also announced that similar action will be taken on other national holidays this year -- Dragon Boat Festival in June, Mid-Autumn Festival in September and Double Ten Day in October.
The labor union is not opposed to the ministry's plan to corporatize the TRA, but the draft bill sent to the Legislature for deliberation was drafted without proper consultation with TRA workers, TRLU Chairman Chen Shih-chieh (陳世杰) said.
Chen said the union demands that the bill be withdrawn from the Legislature and replaced with a new version after the ministry and the labor union hold discussions and reach agreement.
Minister of Transportation Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) called a meeting with leaders of the TRLU and the National Train Drivers' Union earlier this month to try to iron out their differences, but talks broke down in less than an hour.
The draft bill was approved by the Cabinet in early March, as part of the government's efforts to reform the debt-ridden, antiquated TRA, in the wake of two deadly train accidents in 2018 and 2021.
One of the major disagreements between the two sides is how to pay off the TRA's debts after it is corporatized.
As of the end of last year, the agency had accumulated NT$420.801 billion (US$14.45 billion) in debt, according to TRA Director-General Du Wei (杜微).
In a statement issued by TRLU in March in response to the draft bill, the union argued that all TRA debt should be dealt with by the government, rather than be assumed by the new company, as proposed in the bill.
TRLU also noted in the statement that the draft bill fails to provide any guaranties on TRA employee salaries, promotions or pensions.
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