Railway workers vote to strike on holiday

The China Post, Friday 15 August 2003

The Taiwan Railway Labor Union (TRLU) voted yesterday to strike on Sept. 11, the upcoming Moon Festival, to protest government policies and protect railway workers’ rights. Officials expressed regret over the union’s decision but stressed they will maintain a dialogue with union leaders.

A total of 274 TRLU representatives from the state-run Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) around the island took part in an extraordinary general meeting during which they vowed with blood to carry out the strike on the day of the Moon Festival—one of the three major holidays for Chinese people during the year.

The railway workers also vowed that the labor union would not hold any dialogue with the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) before the Moon Festival, which falls on Sept. 11 this year.

The Chinese people have for centuries observed the Moon Festival, also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar.

Traffic is extremely busy during the festival holidays since most people return home for family reunions.

TRLU Chairman Chang Wen-cheng said that over 12,000 out of the more than 14,000 TRA employees have given their signatures to endorse the strike. They will take a collective absence without leave on Sept. 11 in order to take part in a general meeting of the union.

He stressed that the employees have the legitimate right to take leave on national holidays or festivals designated by the government in accordance with the Labor Standards Law.

But the orchestrated simultaneous leave taking by over 85 percent of the workforce will be tantamount to a massive walkout that could paralyze rail services all around Taiwan.

Chang said the decision has been finalized and that the strike is the only way to draw the government’s attention to their appeals.

He added that since the TRA Labor Union declared on June 12 that it would hold its general meeting—the first of its kind in Taiwan railway history—on the day of the Moon Festival, the MOTC has continuously expressed goodwill in an attempt to seek reconciliation with the railway workers.

However, Chang said, this goodwill has been full of empty promises, adding that the MOTC even announced unilaterally on Aug. 11 that the TRA Labor Union general meeting would be held on Sept. 11 as scheduled but that railway transport would not be suspended on that day.

Chang said the MOTC announcement was unilateral and was aimed at splitting the labor union members so that the Sept. 11 strike would be aborted.

The labor union members repeated that they are opposed to the government plans to turn the TRA into a corporation and then reorganize it into a private enterprise.

They also oppose what they described as profiteering schemes favoring the private Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp. (THSRC). They blasted an MOTC plan asking the TRA management to complete the company’s privatization process before July 1, 2004.

Vice MOTC Minister Tsai Dueh said his ministry has drawn up contingency and alternative plans to move travelers in case the strike does take place. He said the MOTC still sincerely hopes to resume dialogue with union members.

Taking the transformation of the Directorate General of Telecommunications into Chunghwa Telecom Co. and the Directorate General of Posts into Chunghwa Posts Co., Tsai stressed that none of the employees’ interests were compromised.

Concerning the union’s opposition to turning the TRA into a private company, Tsai said the government never said it wants to privatize the railway administration.

As for the competition from THSRC, the MOTC is unable to change the situation because it has already signed the BOT contract with the company to build and operate the high-speed rail system.

Tsai said the government will never allow the siphoning off of TRA assets as feared by employees. Instead, the Executive Yuan (Cabinet) has announced a plan to inject NT$100 billion for a reengineering of the TRA to beef up its competitive strength and rather than to put an end to the TRA.

He also reminded TRA union members that all TRA staff members also have the status of government employees, who are not given the right to stage strikes.

In case the union does not to cancel the planned strike, the MOTC has worked out plans to utilize the mass rapid transit networks and public buses to move passengers in metropolitan areas.

For the traffic between townships, the ministry plans to utilize the freeway networks and ask bus companies to increase shuttle services.

But Tsai still said that the contingency plan would never have to be implemented.

Commenting on the possible walkout, officials at the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) said the TRA belongs to the public transport business and employees should take turns to take leave to ensure normal transport services rather than take the same day off concurrently.

TRA employees who fail to report to work on the Moon Festival without legitimate reasons—like sick leave—will be regarded as being absent illegally. CLA officials said employees can be dismissed if they do not show up for work for three consecutive days without a legitimate reason.