Teachers demand fairness in protest

The China Post, Sunday 29 September 2002, 8:00 AM

About 60,000 teachers from around Taiwan marched to the Presidential Office yesterday afternoon to demonstrate their solidarity, to demand fairness and dignity for their profession, and to call for the right to form unions.

Organizers claimed the total number of people taking to the streets reached 100,000 if retired teachers, family members of teachers and sympathetic labor unions were included.

Clutching sunflowers, wearing headbands and waving banners, the protesters chanted slogans like Solidarity! Dignity, Consultations! and Forming Unions! as they marched past the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, the Legislative Yuan and the Ministry of Education on their way to the Presidential Office, where they joined hands and sang in protest.

The demonstration marked an unusual way for teachers to celebrate Teachers’ Day, which is marked in honor of the birthday of the ancient Chinese sage Confucius.

They decided to go ahead with the mass rally in spite of earlier government efforts, including heavy-handed pressure, to dissuade them from staging the demonstration.

Taipei police coordinated with the protest organizers for two weeks to make sure the biggest protest in years would proceed smoothly. Several thousand policemen patrolled the streets to maintain order and guide traffic.

The march was peaceful despite the tremendous size of the crowd. Several hundreds of buses brought tens of thousands of teachers to Taipei to join the rally.

Ignoring warnings that they would be put on a black list for possible reprisals in the future, teachers held high banners identifying their school names.


Teachers at government-run primary and secondary schools in Taiwan do not have to pay income tax but they are banned from forming unions. The tax-exemption policy was imposed 47 years ago at a time when the income of government employees was relatively low.

The government proposed revised income tax laws last month, ending the exemption to help ease a widening budget deficit amid a slowing economy.

We are willing to pay taxes, but we must have the right to form labor unions and negotiate the terms of our contracts, a protest leader said.

In a bid to discredit the teachers, some groups have accused them of organizing the demonstration as a way to protest the removal of their tax exemption. Refuting the accusation, the demonstrators shouted loudly: We want to pay taxes!

Now we are more confident in walking down our own road ... From now on we will defend our own rights, notably the rights to organize unions, the National Teachers’ Association said in statement.

Traditionally, teachers have had a high status in Chinese society.

However, a recent survey of teachers showed that most of them were not happy with their profession mainly because they were not properly respected in modern Taiwan society, as they had been in the past.


The demonstration yesterday was seen as a major outlet for the discontent of the teachers, who have said they consider themselves the scapegoats of a malfunctioning education system.

A spokesman for the National Teachers’ Association said Friday that over the past 10 years, education authorities have tried to push through some fundamental reforms in elementary and secondary education. Although teachers were excluded from the policymaking process, he noted, they nevertheless were blamed by the public for the policies’ defects.

Teachers now demand to actively participate in the education reform process.

Currently, teachers are categorized as public employees, so they are denied the right to form unions. The association, which was formed in February 1999, is a professional association focusing on services and research of education-related topics.

To allow teachers to form unions, a revision to the existing Teachers’ Law is necessary. Huang said the ministry will honor the choice of teachers to join the ranks of workers regulated by the Laborers’ Law and that it expects to work out details of the revision with the Teachers Association.


Some analysts said the magnitude of the protest was a stern warning to the government, especially in the area of education reforms.

The public perception that teachers are a privileged class is wrong, a teacher said. Parents of students call us even after class. But we don’t get paid overtime.

Analysts said there could be escalated and more drastic protests from members of the teaching profession if the government fails to help relieve the mounting pressure and stress on them.

Speaking at a sports meet celebrating the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s 16th anniversary yesterday, Vice President Annette Lu told the crowd that the DPP thrives on street movements but demonstrations held by such a large number of citizens was food for thought for the government.