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May 23, 2017

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Angry workers threaten to overtake MRT

By Ann Yu--Around 100 laborers threatened to take to the mass rapid transit system (MRT) tracks yesterday if Council of Labor Affairs Minister (CLA) Wang Ju-hsuan (王如玄) does not begin negotiations with them by Friday.

Workers were angered by the government taking matters to court for debt collection after reinstating the workers' salary and pensions from 16 years ago. They staged a demonstration in the courtyard of the CLA, with signs that read, "Wang Ju-hsuan Avoid Day 47."

The CLA instituted a government loan plan 15 years ago to compensate workers who were stripped of their salary and redundancy pay, to a maximum of NT$1 million, when employers filed for bankruptcy. With the July 31 deadline approaching, the ministry sent out warning letters to those who had not repaid their debts. According to the ex-employees, former head of the Department of Labor Relations Chen Shen-hsien (陳伸賢) had vowed that the government would never seek to recover the loans.

Director of the Taiwan International Worker's Association Wu Yong-yi (吳勇毅) said Wang deliberately avoided meeting with workers since they protested at the Legislative Yuan on June 19. He disapproved of Wang's avoidance, stating that extreme measures will be taken if answers are not provided.

In a press statement released by the CLA yesterday, Wang expressed that this was an inevitable matter of national debt. She reiterated that the plan was a loan that acquired interest, rather than the government funding for which workers mistook it. Secretary-General of the Bureau of Employment and Vocational Training Robert Lai (賴樹立) also stressed that public servants might lose their jobs if government debts are not repaid.

Lai added that this would also be unfair to those who have paid their debts. According to the CLA, 519 households have already paid back the government for these loans.

Wu rebuked the ministry's method of initiating individual lawsuits, instead of combining the cases to cut back expenses. He stressed that it was wasteful and cruel for the ministry to lavish expenses on law firms and banks in the meantime, insisting on collecting expenses from laborers who already have difficulties.

The CLA said the individual expenses to law firms and banks were necessary expenses, since each household opened a separate case, and requirements for each loan were specific to each individual. Wang also added that specialists will be assigned to aid individuals with difficulties.

A 70-year-old worker from Lian-Fu, surnamed Chiu, complained that the government reimbursed her NT$700,000 and is now asking for NT$1 million for debt payment. "I don't understand why the minister can't collect the debts from the employers. This is unreasonable, demanding payback from the hardworking laborers," she said. Chiu was one of the workers who occupied the train tracks 16 years ago and says she will repeat history if no solution is presented.

Protesters included former workers from self-help organizations established by the Lian-Fu Clothing Manufacturer (聯福製衣廠), Yao-yuan Electronics (耀元電子),Hsing Lee Paper Corp. (興利紙業) and Tai-Chung (太中) Fu-chang (福昌).

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