By Sun Hsin Hsuan -- Employees of Taiwan's railway administration said they would protest at the Presidential Office next Thursday against what they considered unjust punishment for not working over the Lunar New Year holiday.
About 200 staff who walked off work between Jan. 27 to Feb. 1 received letters from the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) for absenteeism, the Taiwan Railway Union (台鐵產業工會) said, adding that some of the workers could be fired.
Railway employees have maintained that they were only taking days off that were protected by law.
Citing the Labor Standards Act, railway union spokesman Hsiao Nung-yu (蕭農瑀) argued on Friday that workers were entitled to not work on national holidays.
If employers wanted them to work on national holidays, they must first obtain the workers' consent, Hsiao said.
"The union filed a statement with the TRA on Jan. 23 asserting that union members would not be working during the holidays, and the request was rejected by the administration," Hsiao said.
Members of the union sought to raise their plight to President Tsai Ing-wen on Ketagalan Boulevard on Feb. 9, demanding that she answer to the people directly.
On a flight last month during a state trip, Tsai urged reporters to "be self-reliant" by "fighting your bosses for your own rights" when a reporter complained to her that media also needed their legally protected rest days.
Hsiao yesterday referred to Tsai's comment, saying that employees trying to be more self-reliant had ended up "being chastised and penalized" by the central government.
The TRA said the Public Servant Service Act stipulated that workers who were absent for two straight days without reason could be punished by a major demerit. Being absent for four days could be penalized with two major demerits, which could result in dismissal.
In extreme cases when the absenteeism caused "serious damage," two major demerits could be meted out even if the worker was not absent for four days, it said.
Wang Chieh (王傑), director general of the railway union, said that the TRA was planning to fire some of the workers based on the "serious damage" clause.
"We will not accept illegal punishment," said Wang, who claimed all workers had taken fewer than two days off.
Moreover, even if the workers had taken more than two days off, it was their "legal right to rest on national holidays," Wang said.
Later on Friday, the Transportation Ministry said it supported the rail authority's decision, saying that if the rail workers' actions were left unpunished, workers on road, sea and airport transportation networks may follow suit and "the public transportation network could collapse." - China Post