Layoff victims apologize for Taipei railway occupation

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – A group of laid-off workers apologized to the public Wednesday for having occupied a track and disrupted train traffic at Taipei Railway Station the night before.
Following talks with the Council of Labor Affairs Tuesday, a group of about 300 protesters moved to the station and occupied Platform 3. Almost 100 of the protesters jumped down on the tracks around 8:20 p.m. and stayed there for 20 minutes until police succeeded in removing them one by one.
At the time of their action, a train from Keelung to Changhua was approaching the station. It slowed down and managed to stop just 2 meters from the protesters, reports said.
The action caused delays for about 40 trains carrying up to 10,600 passengers, reports said. Many bystanders expressed their anger at the protesters, though some also voiced understanding for their motives. The protesters left the station on a special vehicle provided by the railway company about 11 p.m. after negotiations with police.
On Wednesday, the action group apologized to the public for causing the traffic problems, but also said it would continue its protests against the CLA. There would be no actions during the Lunar New Year holiday, but if President Ma Ying-jeou and Jiang Yi-huah, who is scheduled to be sworn in as premier on February 18, did not take any measures, the group said it would organize even tougher protests.
Many of the protesters had been laid off 16 years ago by failing textile and electronic businesses. As the companies did not pay them wages and other benefits, the CLA helped them with funds it considered as loans. Last June, the government body started writing to the laid-off workers that they would have to pay their loans back with interests and fines, triggering a campaign of protests.
During Tuesday’s talks, the CLA proposed to divide the workers in three categories, with the poorer ones allowed to keep at least 90 percent of the money, middle-income workers 60 percent and less needy former employees 30 percent. The CLA said it would form a special taskforce to research how to classify the various applicants, but the protesters refused to accept the proposal.
Former opposition Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen called on the government to drop its repayment requests immediately. The government should “return respect and a life without fear to the workers,” Tsai said in a posting on her Facebook page Wednesday.
She also called for understanding from passengers, because future factory closures could harm any employee in Taiwan.
Former CLA Minister Jennifer Wang said more communication was necessary between the workers and the government on how to resolve the issue.
With Taiwan’s economy in a poor condition and unemployment growing into a more serious social problem, the labor movement has become more outspoken. Protesters threatened to disrupt Taipei’s Mass Rapid Transit services last New Year’s Eve, but dropped their plan after a negative public reaction.