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Labor Awards – Demonstration of the dignity of labor

By Wang Hsing-chi
Part-time Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology, Fu Jen Catholic University

The Labor Awards have continued for ten years! How fortunate I am to witness the workers’ dignity through all these films sent from all over the country and narrated from a wide range of angles. From the workers who are hung up in the air to do their jobs on the construction site, the cleaners who sweep the streets in the city, the firefighters who go on one dangerous mission after another, the taxi drivers who work more than twelve hours a day, the chefs who work 365 days a year, the factory workers on the production floors to the temporary staff members sitting behind the counter with their pale faces in public institutes, they all try to earn a living. But the question is – how much is it worth?

We are living in the world where labor has become a product of the Capitalism. In an environment like this, it is never easy to tell a story about the “value of labor” since labor has always been “priced” rather than “valued”. Under the waves that shatter the value of labor, the value has been diminished again and again since the 1980s; now it is valued only by the number of items made, by how many times it is used, by the number of days or by the hour….

Over twenty films were selected for the final round at the Labor Awards this year, and for me, watching them is undoubtedly a process of “rediscovery”. Almost every one of them would make the viewers rediscover the structure of labor that has been taken for granted. Moreover, the films look directly at the workers, who struggle in the rapidly changing industries. Now, the real value of our wages in Taiwan was reduced to what it was fifteen years ago. Among the 8.5 million workers in the country, around 3.5 million of them earn less than NT$ 30,000 a month, and 800,000 of them earn less than NT$ 20,000 a month. Overall, 70% of the workers earn less than NT$ 40,000 a month, and amongst those low-earning workers, 90% of them are young people in their twenties.

As a result, in Robot Somnambulism and Au Zhou De Meng (Original title) (Chinese title:澳洲的夢) , we see young people facing poverty and low wages all over the world and trying to fight against the misfortune of the low return for their labor. In Ciwidian, Xun Zhao Zhao Gu Zheng Yi (Original title) (Chinese title:尋找照顧正義), Wai Lao You Yu You(Original title) (Chinese title:外勞優與憂)and Shou hu (Original title) (Chinese title:守護), we see how the aboriginal Taiwanese, the immigrants and the migrant workers struggle on the margin of the mainstream culture.

The workers not only suffer from the sense of helplessness but also have to fight for their dignity. It does not matter whether it is the decline of the industry or the sense of loss people face, it could not conceal our will of working towards gaining recognition of the value of labor, even if the value hardly exists in the reality. Therefore in Stolen Holidays we see the workers shouting at the ruling party as well as the opposition party. In Jin Feng De Shao Nu Shi Dai(Original title) (Chinese title:金鳳的少女時代), we see these female workers reminiscing about their time working the night shifts in the factory. Moreover, we definitely cannot ignore the issue of the relationship between labor exploitation and family life that Jiu Ling Huo Da Gong Mei (Original title) (Chinese title:九零后打工妹) tries to raise. Despite the completely different styles of narrative, what is portrayed in these films does happen to Taiwanese workers. They all want to shout out loud. ‘I work all my life, but it is not only wages that I want to learn!’

This is the value of labor.

Nevertheless, when we look at how the fruit of economic growth is shared, we see that when the economy slightly recovered from the credit crunch in 2008, the increased Taiwanese GDP is not reflected upon the increase of wages. Instead, after the 2008 credit crunch, the number of workers who were laid off rose sharply. Not only the amendments of the Labor Standard Act fail to catch the rapid changes in the job market but the government agencies started the trend of hiring a large number of workers on temporary contracts and encourage the employment of part-time workers. Furthermore, the government turns a blind eye on employers, who have broken the law. With limited resources, the authorities can only expand the field in which the Labor Standard Acts could be implemented, such as workers on temporary contracts. However, they do not have enough power to carry out inspections due to the harsh reality in politics.

In this case, it enhances the importance of the frontline workers in social services such as police, firefighters, medical and social workers and their roles in the major disasters depicted in Unsung Heroes – Brave Firefighters and Chuan Sou Zai Bing Fang Jian De Ai(Original title) (Chinese title:穿梭在病房間的愛). In addition to the economic value of their labor, their services have social and political values, and that clearly cannot be calculated by wages. Nonetheless, in the labor system that has been gradually dismantled, like other employees, they are facing extremely difficult situations. 

The outstanding films shown this year are not only historical records but revelation of reality. They disclose the exploitation and accusations in the labor market, portraying the humanity and channeling the workers’ voices. In terms of the content, by using images, a complicated and changing labor spectrum is constructed, ranging from the urban to the rural areas, from Taiwan, China and Hong Kong to the whole world, from the labor system to the political power struggles; it serves as the witness to what happens to the mass workers and (their suffering) in our time. Precious and realistic, it keeps reminding us that even in the economic order and the production rhythm that are bound to be accelerated by technology and capital, the workers will eventually gain the recognition for the value of their labor.

It is the 11th edition of the Labor Awards this year. If you have not seen these films, you can watch them on http://media.bola.taipei/index.php and share them with friends. If you would like to screen these films for educational purpose or in public, please contact the Department of Labor at the Taipei City Government. These films record our stories, searching for the dignity of labor that belongs to us all.

  • Hit: 167
  • Updated: 2017/3/30 11:03
  • Reviewed: 2017/3/30 11:03

  • Source: Department of Labor, Taipei City Government