United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 7, 2016
Executive Summary: Unrest has persisted for nine months. It is time the "one fixed day off and one flexible rest day" drama ended. But has the DPP learned prudence and humility? Has it learned to avoid making trouble for itself? Has it learned that double standards are chickens that will eventually come home to roost? Tsai Ing-wen's "hipster politics" is clearly incapable of dealing with social reality. When it is necessary to persuade the public, do not resort to shouting slogans.
Full Text Below:
The president handed down an edict. She declared that the "one fixed day off and one flexible rest day" rule must pass. Yesterday the Legislative Yuan mobilized. Heavy crowd control barriers were installed, and police stood guard, ready to block labor protestors. Inside the legislature, blue and green legislators fought over control of the podium. Despite nine months of political wrangling, the "one fixed day off and one flexible rest day" dispute still had to be settled in such a crude fashion. This reflects the government's failure to communicate with the public. It also shows that “hipster politics” is incapable of dealing with harsh reality.
The year is nearing its end. If the government fails to resolve these problems by then, the number of public protests will be too long to print out. Employees and employers will not know what to do. The government has rammed the amendment through. Observers know why. The amendment process was an embarrassment, mainly due to DPP manipulation. For one, because when it was in the opposition, it behaved like a thug. Now that it in office, it must make 180 degree reversals in its policy course. For another, the DPP loves to show off before workers, but it has no idea how to strike a proper balance. In the end, all it can do is make reckless decisions in the heat of the moment.
During March of this year, former Minister of Labor Chen Hsiung-wen reduced the number of working hours per week in exchange for the elimination of seven legal holidays. He wanted labor and public servants to share the same holidays. But this policy was blocked by the DPP in the Legislative Yuan, on the pretext that it harmed the rights and interests of eight million workers. The newly installed DPP gloated. It now had the “total government” it longed for. It assumed the move would please labor. Therefore it gave labor carte blanche. Who knew that nine months later, different holidays for labor, public servants, and teachers would lead to social unrest. In the end, the Tsai government was forced to eliminate the seven legal holidays. Nine months later, the DPP was forced to make a 180 degree about face. The DPP was now reaping what it sowed.
Even more noteworthy is the government's changing attitude towards labor. Yesterday's deference has become today's arrogance. When the DPP was out of power, labor stood by it, shoulder to shoulder. Therefore the Tsai government was presumed to be a friend to labor. As soon as it rose to power, it expressed solidarity with labor. For example, the president illegally met with the boss of Far Eastone, and demanded that he help the government resolve the toll collectors strike. This opened a Pandora's box, by encouraging labor protests. When China Airlines flight attendants went on strike, Tsai Ying-wen boarded a chartered plane and proclaimed "You are not alone!” As a result, Ho Nuan-hsuan gave the flight attendants everything they demanded. One month later however, the flight attendants on Tsai's chartered plane were fired from the union.
The government's support for labor is praiseworthy. But policy decisions are a complicated process. If they are badly handled, if they are tailor made for specific individuals, if they are biased or even hostile, they can wreak havoc. For example, the DPP vehemently opposed Chen's elimination of seven legal holidays. But later this became a bitter pill the party itself had to swallow. Before, it repeatedly offered concessions to specified groups. The “squeaky wheel gets the grease”, after all. But more importantly, when a government finds itself at rope's end, goodwill gestures are futile. All it can do is get tough and clean up the mess. This time labor waged a month long hunger strike, but the ruling DPP completely ignored it.
Over the past few months Tsai frequently addressed labor. She said "Labor is the DPP's partner" and that "Labor occupies the softest spot in our hearts". In her eagerness to chummy up to them, she was a fount of “hipster rhetoric”. In the end though, the legislature was forced to erect heavy metal barriers to keep labor protestors far from the premises. Labor demanded seven legal holidays. But the government foisted its “three special holidays for new labor" scheme on them. The entire process was a waste of time, and left labor permanently aggrieved. Tsai's “hipster politics” ran up against reality, and fell flat on its face. That much is crystal clear.
Even more noteworthy was the Labor Law incident. Attention was focused on the "one fixed day off and one flexible rest day" and "seven legal holidays” issues. Structural gains and losses in the amendment were ignored. For example, while horse trading over the work week, the ruling party increased the rates for overtime hours. But this is fruit that not every worker will see or eat. Many local governments do not carry out labor inspections at all. How can officials know that overtime benefits due laborers are accurately credited to their accounts?
Unrest has persisted for nine months. It is time the "one fixed day off and one flexible rest day" drama ended. But has the DPP learned prudence and humility? Has it learned to avoid making trouble for itself? Has it learned that double standards are chickens that will eventually come home to roost? Tsai Ing-wen's "hipster politics" is clearly incapable of dealing with social reality. When it is necessary to persuade the public, do not resort to shouting slogans.