Taipei teachers form unauthorized union

By Hung-fu Hsueh, Taiwan News, 7 December 2003

CLA, MOE officials say change in relevant laws needed for group to obtain recognition/

Sixty three teachers yesterday formed Taiwan’s first teachers’ labor union in Taipei, in an attempt to speed up their bid to be allowed to adopt the Labor Standard Law and given the three basic labor rights.

Currently teachers in Taiwan are only allowed to gather under the setting of an union-like association. Taiwan now does have a National Teachers’ Association, but the affiliation is not entitled to the three basic labor rights, including the right to call a strike.

The newly-elected chairman of the teachers’ labor union, Chang Cho-ching, however, said that they are ready to file their union registration with the Cabinet-level Council of Labor Affairs. She said that if the council rejects their application, then they will file an administrative lawsuit with the administrative tribunal and also ask for a constitutional interpretation by the Grand Justices.

Eight years ago, when President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and CLA Chairwoman Chen Chu (陳菊) were Taipei City Mayor and the Director of Bureau of Labor Affairs respectively, they both approved the formation of Taiwan’s first teachers’ association. I now hope that they will approve the establishment of the teachers’ labor union, now that they’ve reached such high political seats, said Chang.

Labor activists and representatives from other local teachers’ associations also attended yesterday’s launching ceremony to offer support. Chairwoman of National Teachers’ Association, Lu Hsio-chu (呂秀菊), also attended the ceremony, but refrained from joining the labor union.

Lu explained that the new teachers’ labor union was established by members of the NTA, who were too impatient to wait for the government’s continually delayed promise of action and took it upon themselves to set up the labor union.

We support these teachers’ action of founding a labor union. We teachers have fought hard, striving for the right to set up a labor union for quite a long time, said Lu.

Lu said that they have been ceaselessly trying to revive the motion for the Labor Union Law to apply to them, but to no avail. This is why some teachers, unwilling to wait any more, decided to form a labor union to clash with the current system.

Lu said the government’s reluctance to allow teachers to found a labor union was based on their concern that teachers may instigate a strike.

Conducting a strike is a moral way to resolve disputes between employers and employees, hence teachers should be entitled the right to strike. It would be unfair not to allow teachers this right just because the government is worried about teachers striking, said Lu.

Lu added that it would be absurd to think that teachers would never strike at will, and that a well-thought out regulation can clearly define the procedures for conducting a strike.

Even if teachers do strike, students’ interests can still be protected, as teachers may be compelled to make up the lost classes after the strike, said Lu.

However, officials from the Ministry of Education and CLA are both of a more conservative attitude toward institutionalizing teachers’ unions. Officials from the two departments both say that the Teachers’ Law should be revised first, before formally recognizing teachers’ labor unions.

MOE and CLA officials outwardly say that they are both supportive of and welcome the establishment of the union.

However, the MOE’s Education Research Committee still supports the need for relevant laws to be amended first and stands by the notion that teachers should not be allowed to strike. MOE officials also do not agree with compulsory union membership for teachers.

CLA officials recommend teachers to lobby lawmakers to change the law first, since teachers are still prohibited from forming labor unions. They said that revising the Labor Union Law falls under the authority of lawmakers, and that they are only administrative officials in no position to comment on the legalities of the issue.