Taiwan has averted a potentially crippling strike by employees of the island's main power firm even as workers' unhappiness spreads over proposed labour reforms.
Economic Affairs Minister Lee Chih-kung yesterday agreed to allow representatives of the labour union of state-run Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) to be part of the process to amend the Electricity Act to privatise the power supply industry.
The union, which represents more than 26,000 Taipower employees, had urged its workers to down tools in protest if the government did not allow their participation in the privatisation process.
It also wanted Taipower to address a manpower shortage and relook its monetary awards system.
Had the talks failed, the union would have mobilised its members to occupy the Economic Affairs Ministry building. It was also planning for members to not report to work during typhoons, when workers would be needed to repair power facilities.
NO NEED TO GO TO EXTREME
I believe the society will allow them to voice their aspirations in many ways... but I hope they will not have to go to the extreme.
TAIWANESE PRESIDENT TSAI ING-WEN
After an hour-long meeting with union chairman Ting Zuo-yi at the ministry, Mr Lee agreed to canvass the views of the union's members during its review of the law.
Speaking to reporters, Mr Lee said: "We are on the same side... we would not have such discussions without involving the workers."
Mr Ting, for his part, urged transparency in the process. "Any amendments (to the Act) that will affect our workers must be done openly... union members must be able to voice our opinions."
While the Taipower case may be resolved for now, President Tsai Ing-wen's government still has to grapple with widening workers' unhappiness, sparked by controversial proposed labour reforms.
Yesterday, more than 200 people gathered outside the Executive Yuan building to protest against the proposal of a "flexible day off" which workers think will result in longer working hours.
At the same time, Taiwan's major business groups are also putting pressure on the government to cut the number of public holidays from 19 to 12, fuelling fears among workers of being short-changed.
Last week, hundreds of China Airlines (CAL) cabin crew walked off the job to protest against changes in work conditions. The one-day strike ended after CAL management agreed to meet demands.
This has triggered calls by unions of Taiwan Railways and oil company CPC Corporation - both government-owned firms - to stage copycat strikes.
Analysts have warned that strikes are potential landmines that will scare off investors and cripple the already sluggish economy, which is expected to grow by only 0.52 per cent this year.
For instance, CAL racked up a loss of about NT$500 million (S$21 million) in refunds and compensation as a result of the strike.
Speaking to reporters in Paraguay at the end of her nine-day trip to Latin America, Ms Tsai said yesterday that she understands workers are concerned about their rights and want the government officials to know their plight.
"I believe the society will allow them to voice their aspirations in many ways... but I hope they will not have to go to the extreme."