Thousands of people took to the streets of Taipei Saturday demanding that the government retract an amendment to the Labor Standards Act, saying that it will leave workers more vulnerable to overtime abuse.
"We have only one demand, which is that the government retract the amendment. None of the proposed revisions benefit workers," the organizers said, referring to the government-sponsored draft that it wants to push through in a planned extra legislative session in January.
The organizers led the protesters from Beiping East Road, where the headquarters of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is located, with chants of "No overwork! Retract the draconian draft" before the march began at 2:30 p.m.
At the rally, people from all walks of life took the stage to voice concerns over the bill, joined by migrant workers employed in the manufacturing and construction industries, who will also be affected by the amendment if it passes.
"The law provides minimum protection for local workers. But for migrant workers, it serves as a ceiling, not a floor. No employer treats migrant workers more favorably than the law," said Dwi Pranoto of Indonesia.
One of the proposed revisions would change the regulations on overtime work by increasing the maximum overtime hours allowed per month from 46 to 54, but capping them at 138 hours over three months.
Meanwhile, provided that employers seek approval from government agencies and reach an agreement with workers, the guaranteed break between two shifts can be reduced to 8 hours and employees can work for 12 days in a row.
Under the existing rules, shift workers should get at least 11 hours of rest before working another shift and get a mandatory day off in every seven-day period.
"We don't like to work overtime, but we have no choice. In addition to paying back the exorbitant brokerage fees, we have to pay service fees to brokers as well as board and lodging expenses to employers every month. We could be forced to go back to our countries if we refuse to work overtime," Dwi said.
Hsu Chun Huai, coordinator of the Taiwan International Workers' Association, who acted as Dwi's interpreter, criticized the government for failing to provide migrant workers with any information about the amendment.
"Migrant workers will also bear the brunt of the proposed changes, but the government has not translated anything into languages they understand," Hsu said.
Migrant workers employed as caregivers for elderly, disabled or chronically sick people also took part in the rally.
As caregivers are not covered under the Labor Standards Act, Irine Berog, from the Philippines, said she gets only one day off per month.
"I don't have a day off every week. I work seven days a week and take only one day off a month," she told CNA. "Every day, I work from morning till night. I don't have much sleep at night because I still need to work if my patient needs me."
Asked what the government should do to improve their working conditions, she expressed hope that the government will consider them as workers, not slaves, and "give us enough rest," because taking care of the elderly "is not an easy task."
The police estimated that the turnout was about 10,000.
People gathered in groups with flags indicating that they are from all trades and professions, including medical personnel, firefighters and police, attorneys, engineers, professors and employees in the public sector, in addition to trade union groups.
With the proposed provision to reduce guaranteed rest time to eight hours, the law will not be able to ensure that workers have adequate time to rest, thus jeopardizing public safety, said Matthew Lin (???), deputy head of the labor union of the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp.
Pan Chia-luo, a leader of the Employees Union of China Airlines, said that giving more leeway to employers will only render workers more vulnerable because workers are not on equal footing with managers.
The protesters marched from DPP headquarters past the Executive Yuan toward the Legislative Yuan.
At some point outside the Executive Yuan, demonstrators scuffled with police when the organizers unexpectedly called for a siege, but the clashes soon subsided. The rally ended at 6:35 p.m., with organizers saying that a further protest will be staged outside the Legislature on Jan. 5.
However, hundreds of people refused to leave the streets as night fell.
Some protesters occupied the interaction between Zhongxiao West Road and Zhongshan South Road near the Executive Yuan, blocking traffics. As of the press time, some people were still marching near Ximending chanting slogans.