Prevent National Highway System Toll Collectors from Copying the Sunflower Student Movement
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 23, 2014
Summary: Government resources must be used on the majority. Giving toll collectors government jobs is infeasible. The only solution is to pressure Far Eastern to demonstrate greater sincerity, offer a better solutions, and fulfill its promise to find jobs. Far Eastern created a problem. It has no right to expect the public to bear its burden.
Full Text Below:
The Sunflower Student Movement joined with other social movements and left a significant impact on Taiwan society. Now National Highway System toll collectors are copying their tactics. Premier Jiang Yi-hua must treat this matter seriously. Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co. (FETC) failed to reassign employees according to the terms of its contract. Jiang is demanding that the company fulfill its commitments by June 30. Otherwise the Ministry of Transportation will impose harsh penalties. Strict adherence to the law is of course necessary. But it will not solve the problem. The prospects are not bright.
The National Highway System toll collectors' struggle poses a problem, for a number of reasons. The year 2005 was key. The Ministry of Transportation and Communications signed a contract with Far Eastern which included five guarantees. These guarantees included job guarantees, salary guarantees, social benefits, workplace protection, and compensation in the event of reassignment. Problems have arisen with the first guarantee, which promised toll collectors five years of job security beginning with the date of their transfer. Alas, the guarantee was not worded clearly enough. It left too much room for interpretation. As a result, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, Far Eastern, and toll collectors are now talking past each other.
What did the job guarantee guarantee? Two interpretations are possible, One. The "job/no job" dichotomy favored employers. Suppose "job" is defined as giving toll collectors any old job? Suppose it is interpreted as fullfilment of the terms of the contract? Second, what sort of job was provided? The job might be good or bad. It is not enough to provide the toll collectors with any old job. They must be provided with jobs that are satisfactory.
These two conflicting interpretations have led to endless bickering.
From the perspective of the toll collectors, a government job is the ideal. But from a legal and logical perspective, such expectations are unrealistic. Toll collectors are hired by the government for one year terms on a one time basis. The employment contract clearly terminates their employment once ETC has calculated the milage and collected the tolls. Upon termination toll collectors must seek employment on their own. The government made this clear way back in 2006. Therefore, the government has no obligation to reassign them The toll collectors' demand that the government provide them with government jobs has no basis.
The ROC trumpets itself a democracy with the rule of law. But emotions invariably trump reason and the law. The primary appeal of the recent protests has been emotional. The toll collectors have made two appeals to emotion. One involves the social climate. The other involves subjective interpretations by individuals.
People on Taiwan are extremely sympathic toward the disadvantaged. This is why some say "The most beautiful scenery on Taiwan is its people." Toll collector unemployment can easily inspire compassion and concern for the disadvantaged. It can lend the protests "emotional legitimacy." Job guarantees are abstract. Guarantees must take into account the quality of the jobs offered, not merely whether a job was offered. This is also the source of individual "emotional legitimacy." If the job provided was unsatisfactory, the job guarantees have not been fulfilled. Far Eastern broke its promises regarding job guarantees. That and "emotional legitimacy" give toll collectors leverage. Guarantees of government jobs were neither reasonable nor legal. When sympathy for the protests increase, toll collectors who accepted severance payments will regret their action. They will join the struggle, increasing its momentum.
Job guarantees must include job quality. The issue of quality can be blown out of proportion, This is why we believe Premier Jiang's declaration might be the sole solution. It may not meet the expectations of toll collectors. But toll collectors must not be blamed. The Ministry of Transportation and Communications foolishly to accepted an infinitely elastic guarantee. In 2006 government heads and officials left behind a mess. It is hard to defend the government's position. Government jobs are not consistent with reason or the law. It is tantamount to a government declaration regarding temporary staff in similar circumstances. It is tantamount to providing long-term job security. It would not only undermine the government's employment system, it would also jeopardize the government's fiscal situation.
Far Eastern's troubles are evident from its response to outsiders. "Fifty-four reassigned toll collectors have been totally non-responsive. Sixty-seven toll collectors have submitted written requests for government jobs. Far Eastern has asked toll collectors to actively participate in the search for acceptable jobs. By late June, Far Eastern will clarify the job reassignments with the Highway Bureau." In other words, some toll collectors have never even contacted Far Eastern regarding job reassignments. How, therefore can this be considered Far Eastern's responsibility? But Far Eastern hardly merits pity. Its interpretations were too ambiguous and too elastic. Far Eastern was responsible for creating the problems related to job security, no one else. .
Toll collectors are petitioning and protesting. They spent the night camped out in front of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications. They occuped the intersection. The public is not surprised by these esclating actions. Not long ago, factory worker protests ended. They too escalated, step by step. The intense struggle lasted 18 years. The government, unemployed factory workers, and the community as a whole have paid a terrible price. The government cannot allow the toll collectors protests to become a factory workers style prairie fire. It must approach the problem with greater sincerity, wisdom, and empathy.
Government resources must be used on the majority. Giving toll collectors government jobs is infeasible. The only solution is to pressure Far Eastern to demonstrate greater sincerity, offer a better solutions, and fulfill its promise to find jobs. Far Eastern created a problem. It has no right to expect the public to bear its burden.