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May 27, 2017

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True unionization should be granted to civil servants

Firefighters' groups joined a Labor Day march last week to demand a resolution to their grievances, notably calling for the introduction of unions. Also last week, policeman Ko Hsiung-fei (柯雄飛) serving in Miaoli who had been in a coma last month lost his battle against a stroke. The policeman collapsed due to overwork during a shift at the Legislative Yuan during the Sunflower protest. He was called from his local post to serve in a support capacity in the capital.

The twin events converge to call our attention to the grievances that come from a vital sector of society — that of civil servants. In particular, the service men and women who provide a buffer against threats to the people's well-being, including police, firefighters and military, and who currently operate under a system that denies them the benefits of unionization. Specific grievances, such as the massive overwork demanded of firefighters — clocking in at 350 plus hours per month — need addressing, but the best way to address them is to empower the groups to negotiate.

To that end, civil servants should be allowed to form unions in the true sense of the word. At the same time, it is necessary to restrict the right of bargaining to protect certain very narrowly defined "critical" areas of societal functioning.

In 2002, the Civil Servant Association Act (公務人員協會法) was passed. This set up a framework for the organization of workers in the public sector, with some important differences: first, the managing authorities of worker associations are government units. Article 5 of the law states that the "competent body" of unions is the Ministry of Civil Service (銓敘部) for those groups operating in the central government and the local city and county governments for local groups.

The original text of Article 5 states that "Ventures operated by civil servant associations shall be subject to the direction and oversight of the competent agency for each respective venture." This basically vests authority over the associations in the government, with their activities being directly supervised under the agenda of a party that is supposed to be the other party in negotiations.

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