Teachers demand right to form union

By Sandy Huang, Taipei Times, 29 September 2002

Tens of thousands of teachers took to the streets in downtown Taipei yesterday to voice their indignation over a government regulation that deprives them from the right to form a labor union.

The march, which fell on National Teachers’ Day, was the first ever to be organized by teachers in Taiwan’s history.

According to the National Teachers’ Association (NTA), the event organizer, more than 60,000 participants from all over the country took part in the demonstration, which also included teachers’ families and supporters.

Other groups had different estimates of the crowd size, but they were all in the tens of thousands.

Waving sunflowers in the air to symbolize a walk toward a brighter future, demonstrators chanted slogans such as uphold dignity and the right to form a union.

They progressed peacefully from Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall to the square in front of the Presidential Office, where a vigil was held.

The three rights refers to rights stated in the nation’s labor laws that empower labor unions to launch a strike, organize employees and negotiate with employers.

Under the Teachers’ Law, teachers may form professional associations that focus on services and research educational topics, but are banned from forming unions as teachers are classified as public employees.

We are out here to express our determination to uphold teachers’ solidarity and dignity, as well as to call for our right to form a teachers’ union to safeguard teachers’ welfare, said NTA Secretary-General Wu Chung-tai.

The NTA’s calls for a teachers’ union were triggered by a Cabinet’s decision last month to abolish a policy that made junior high and elementary school teachers exempt from taxes. The policy was put in place in 1955.

Wu also said that the march was also meant to serve as a dialogue with the public to make the plight of teachers understood.

Sam Huang, a teacher at Taoyuan County’s Fufeng Junior High School, said that teachers need a union because they have been forced into a passive position for too long, in which the government makes all the decisions for them.

Outsiders often paint a rosy picture of the teaching profession. They criticize teachers for being paid during their long summer and winter recesses. But they miss the tremendous emotional and psychological efforts that teachers put into their students, which can’t be measured in paychecks, he said.

For a long time, teachers have been stereotyped as being ineloquent when it comes to expressing themselves, he said The demonstration served as a good opportunity to let others know what teachers have to say.

Another teacher agreed.

It was the first time that teachers have gotten together and let their voice be heard, said Lin Yu-tzer, a teacher at Taipei County’s Ansyi Junior High School.

Teachers’ manners throughout the demonstration successfully delivered the messages that we wanted to communicate.

Minister of Education Huang Jong-tsun and Vice Minister Fang Shiun-lui made an appearance at the vigil.

Stressing that the ministry is on the side of the teachers, Huang added that the demonstration served as a good opportunity for teachers’ voices to be heard.

The demonstration resembles a new beginning and opens an opportunity that is the best time for the ministry and the teachers to work together and unite in order to bring out the best in the country’s next generation.