Railway union threatens to stage one-day strike

By Hung-fu Hsueh, Taiwan News, 13 June 2003

The Taiwan Railway Labor Union announced yesterday they would hold a one-day strike on September 11 and would hold another strike during the Lunar New Year if the Ministry of Traffic and Communication and Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation do not meet the union’s demands on the platform dispute.

The platform problem began two years ago in September, 2001 when the union began to petition to MOTC not to hand over two of Taipei Main Station’s four platforms to Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation as the contract described. The worker union considers that MOTC is sacrificing the development of Taiwan Railway to help the growth of a private corporation.

Sixty union representatives yesterday held a meeting at Taipei Main Station, and decided to hold a union general assembly on this year’s Moon Festival, September 11. As the general assembly would mean a large number of TR workers would leave their posts to attend the assembly, the assembly practically equates to a strike.

The union also decided that if the government still does not show good will in solving this platform problem, the union will ask all union members for a vote at the general assembly to go for a bigger strike over Chinese New Year, a strike that would paralyze Taiwan’s traffic since many Taiwanese return to their hometowns during the festival.

Two strike options have so far been discussed by the union officials. Firstly, all union members are to take their holidays and not work during the Chinese New Year holidays. The second option would simply be to begin an indefinite strike to coincide with holidays.

Chairman of the union, Chang Wen-cheng (張文政), said the large-scale strike aims to highlight the government’s improper handling of its transportation policy, and the government’s disregard of TR workers’ interests. Chang held MOTC responsible for failing to resolve the problems, forcing workers to go on strike as a final resort.

Since September 12, 2001 we have continually petitioned the MOTC over the unfair arrangement concerning the platforms. Last year we also went to the Legislature to lobby for a re-arrangement on the platform issue. In the protest this year on February 24, many of our workers even laid down on the rail tracks in protest. The promise Transportation Minister Lin Lin-san made during the February 24 protest have so far not been realized, said Chang.

After the February protest, the MOTC told TR workers that the government would not sacrifice the interest of TR in order to complete the High Speed Railway, promising that the MOTC was working on plan to transform Taiwan’s conventional railway system into a more competitive one. Transportation Minister Lin also promised to the union that the platform dispute between TR and THSR would be resolved before the end of April this year.

However, the minister has forgotten his words for one month already. After the protests and petitions we made in the past, we found the authority is just trying to buy some time to put off all the unsolved problems, said the union’s secretary-general, Chen Han-ching (陳漢卿).

Chen said an estimated 8,000 of the total 14,500 union members would attend the general assembly, which is scheduled to take place at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. Assembly participants are now planning to march the short distance down Katagelan Avenue to protest in front of the Presidential Office.

MOTC Minister Lin told local media yesterday that he is continually communicating with the union, and that negotiations about the platform arrangement between the MOTC and THSRC are still in progress.

The deputy general manager of THSRC, Chang Chin-shan (江金山), said THSRC is to face the MOTC in good will in order to see the whole dispute successfully resolved.

THSRC was the selected by the government in 1997 as the contractor for the BOT (build-operate-transfer) project to build a high speed rail link between Taipei and Kaohsiung. The high speed train system was designed to use the current platforms at Taipei Main Station now used by Taiwan Railway. A contract signed by the THSR company and the MOTC dictates that two platforms and four tracks at Taipei Main Station are to be handed over to THSRC by next April.