Population: 22 700 000
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: Not a member state
Restrictions on freedom of association remained for many workers, including teachers, while efforts to amend the labour law were overtaken by political controversy involving the President. A number of overdue regulatory reforms were undertaken in early 2006 by the Council on Labor Affairs to improve the treatment of foreign migrant workers, and increase inspections of employers hiring them. A bank sought to undermine its workers’ union by promoting the president to a management position.
Trade union rights in law
Many restrictions: Prior to 1971, when it was displaced from the ILO by the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan had ratified ILO Convention no. 98 on the right to organise and collectively bargain. Despite this early international commitment, while the right to organise is generally protected by law there are also significant restrictions on this right. Defence industry workers, fire fighters, teachers, civil servants, doctors and Medicare personnel, defence industry workers, and domestic employees are still not permitted to form trade unions. Army personnel and police are also not permitted to form or join trade unions.
The Civil Servants’ Association Law allows civil servants the right to organise professional associations. These do not in any way equate to trade unions. Teachers had hoped that they would be given the right to join and form unions, but the necessary amendments to the Labour Union Law, proposed by unions and their allies in the Legislative Yuan in January, were not considered. Under the Teachers’ Law, teachers may form associations, but cannot form trade unions or take strike action.
Migrant workers can join trade unions, but only Taiwanese citizens may hold leadership positions.
The Labour Union Law states that labour union leaders must be elected regularly by secret ballot.
Government interference permitted: The legislation authorises the government to interfere directly in the internal affairs of trade unions. Trade unions must submit their articles of association and rules to the authorities at three levels of government (city, county, and national) for review prior to official registration. The authorities can also dissolve unions if they do not meet certification requirements or if their activities constitute a "disturbance of public order".
Restrictions on the right to strike: There are many restrictions on the right to strike, and government officials are given broad authority under the law to take decisions which curtail or prevent strikes. As a result, it is difficult to hold a legal strike, and workers complain that this effectively undermines their ability to develop leverage to collectively bargain. Strikes are only permitted concerning issues of wages/compensation, or working schedules. Government authorities can impose mediation or arbitration procedures for disputes that they consider sufficiently serious, or which involve "anti-competitive practices", or which they deem to involve ‘unfair practices’. During such procedures, the law prohibits workers from interfering with the "working order". Severe sanctions are applied for failure to comply with the law, workers are not allowed to strike and employers are not allowed to take retaliatory action.
Collective bargaining limited: Collective bargaining is recognised by law but is not mandatory.
Limits to coverage of salaried workers under Labour Standards Law: The Labour Standards Law, which governs the rights and obligations of both workers and employers, and provides oversight for working conditions, does not apply to numerous sectors of the labour market, including civil servants, teachers, doctors, nursery employees and gardeners, domestic workers, lawyers, and bodyguards/security personnel. An estimated 15 to 20 per cent of the salaried workforce is outside the purview of this law, further undercutting a minimum floor of standards upon which collective bargaining can be based.
Export Processing Zones (EPZs): Companies operating in the export processing zones are subject to the same labour laws as the rest of the country, with the exception of some high-tech industries.
Trade union rights in practice
Labour unions, as distinct from the many "craft" unions registered, are small and disorganised and represent just over three per cent of the workforce.
Collective bargaining limited: Very few workers are covered by collective agreements. Collective bargaining generally only takes place in large companies, which account for a mere five per cent of companies in the country. By 2006, only 22 per cent of existing industrial labour unions had been able to successfully negotiate a collective agreement for their members.
Employers loath to work with unions: Many employers were frequently unwilling to bargain agreements or otherwise discuss labour issues with unions, and many enterprises readily locked out or fired workers for union activities. There are no legal penalties for discrimination against union leaders.
Systematic abuses of the rights of migrant workers: Legal migrant workers pursuing justice in the civil courts for violation of contracts, damages for injury on the job, or non-payment of wages are frequently deported before their day in court arrives. The Council of Labour Affairs (CLA) regularly denies migrant workers an extension of their employment permit while their cases are pending in court, thereby depriving them of the right to remain in Taiwan. Migrant workers employed in homes as domestic workers continued to be denied coverage under the labour law, and therefore faced significant obstacles in seeking legal redress in instances when their rights are abused.
In November, the CLA introduced a new set of labour regulations governing the work of migrant workers. Employers of migrant workers are required to reach and agreement with their worker on key conditions of work such as hours of work and overtime, living quarters and meals, and holidays/time off. Contract terminations of migrant workers must be signed by a city or county government official in order to end inappropriate use of deportation as a threat against workers to keep them in line.
Violations in 2006
Background: The year was marked by political controversy and conflicts arising from charges of alleged corruption by President Chen Shui-bian’s wife, son-in-law, and top aides. Votes in June and September in the Parliament to recall the President failed, but as protests mounted on the streets, the result was political deadlock for the remainder of the year.
False promotions to sideline union leaders at Bank of Overseas Chinese (BOOC): When Polaris Financial Group, one of the top securities firms in Taiwan, took over the BOOC, the bank’s union [affiliate of the National Federation of Bank Employees Union (NFBEU)] stood in the way of the new owners’ intention to restructure the bank to strengthen its appeal to potential buyers among international banking corporations. On 13 March, without any prior notice the management notified union president Lee Ying-chung that he had been promoted to the position of deputy director-general of the BOOC Human Resources Department. According to the labour law, representatives of management human resources divisions are not allowed to be members of the union. The NFBEU reported that the intent of management was to change the union leadership to ensure that a more pliable, management-friendly union representative be appointed. Lee Ying-chung promptly refused the promotion and filed a complaint to office of the local labour authority requesting immediate revocation of management’s appointment letter. Nevertheless, BOOC management pushed the union to immediately hold an election to replace President Lee and turn over the leadership of the union. To pressure the union, the BOOC temporarily cut off the union’s internet access and threatened to deny access of the union leaders to the union’s office on BOOC property.
After the Polaris Financial Group assumed control, the BOOC refused to negotiate with the union concerning changes in the conditions of employment or to provide guarantees of job security for employees in the case of a foreign take-over of the bank. The NFBEU further reported that management sought to intimidate union leaders to stay away from union meetings, and threatened to withdraw advertising from media publications that actively covered the expanding labour dispute. The union threatened to call a strike on 29 December to underline the demand for a collective agreement to protect the jobs of the BOOC employees, but the strike did not materialise. Nevertheless, as the year ended, the BOOC terminated Chen Hui-chih, the acting president of the union and another leading union activist for their activities to rally support for employees’ demand for an agreement. The union called the lay-offs illegal and planned to appeal.
Lawsuit in retaliation at collective action by migrant workers: In February 2006, Hua Pan Manpower Consultant and Management filed a civil lawsuit against 14 Thai workers for damages caused during massive riots in August 2005 and demanded they pay the company NT $19.67 million. The riots followed months of inaction by Kaohsiung authorities over complaints of abuse by the Kaohsiung Rapid Transit Company (KRTC). Hua Pan supplied KRTC with Thai workers, who complained of many abuses, including beatings, forced overtime and massive illegal deductions from their salaries. The lawsuit was filed despite a finding by the CLA’s Foreign Labour Department that the unrest resulted from poor management of workers by Hua Pan, for which the company was fined $NT 1.5 million. A Cabinet-level CLA official was publicly quoted calling Hua Pan’s lawsuit "unacceptable and unjustifiable." With the support of labour unions and NGOs, five of the 14 Thai workers countersued Hua Pan, claiming they had been held as slaves. Public pressure on Hua Pan later compelled the company to reduce the compensation demanded to a nominal amount, but the workers were not prepared to settle the dispute.
The reason for the Kaohsiung authorities’ inaction became clear when a major scandal emerged in the contracting arrangements for the Thai workers. KRTC records showed one third of each worker’s salary was being diverted into the pockets of other unknown persons. Over 22 Kaohsiung city and provincial officials, KRTC senior managers, and Chen Che-nan, a former top aide to President Chen Shui-bian, were indicted and tried on charges of corruption and breach of trust connected to arrangements made by Hua Pan. Meanwhile, Yen Shih-hua, the General Manager of Huapan, and his wife were tried for taking kickbacks from manpower agents in Thailand, as well as extorting money from the workers themselves.