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The current status of Taiwanese enterprises’ labor unions-Why a labor union essential

Director General Chen, Su-Lun
Industrial General Union of Taipei City
 
 
  • The significance of labor unions to both labor and management
 
​     I think that it is significant to discuss why organizing a labor union is necessary from the aspect of either the labor side or management side.     In general, the employees might wonder that since they have been protected by the Labor Standards Act (LSA), why organizing and joining a labor union is necessary?

     As we know, the LSA and the regulations relating to labor are subject to protecting a minimum standard for labor conditions and regulating the most basic rights and obligations between the labor side and management side. Take article 21 of the Act as an example, it regulates the wage that is expected to be decided by both the labor side and management side through negotiations, but the wage can’t fall below the basic wage.

​     However, the LSA does not regulate the matter of adjustments to salary, meaning, whether the enterprise should adjust the salary, when to adjust, adjust the basic salary or the bonus. In accordance with article 10-1 of the Act, the employees are expected to follow 5 principles when adjusting employee’s work. Does the employee have disadvantages when his or her position, job content, workplace or salary structure is changed due to being transferred to another position? Does the employee have the right to refuse? The LSA does not clarify for any of these.

​     Even though the employee is aware of his or her rights and obligations in accordance to the law, it is not easy for an employee to move from “acknowledging” to “actively exercising” a remedy when his or her rights or interests are not met. So, the existence of the labor union becomes very important to build a gap between the labor side and management side. The Labor Union Act, the Act for a Settlement of Labor-Management Disputes and the Collective Agreement Act are called the “three labor laws”. For the purpose of complementing the insufficiency of legal regulation, the Labor Union Act Law (LUAL)grants the ability to organize unions and to do a collective bargaining to help employees in the enterprise with the protection of rights and interests.

​     From the point of view of the enterprise side, since there has been the labor-management meeting, then what is the union needed for? The representatives of the labor side for the labor-management meeting are elected. They are from the different departments and units, and they may be not familiar with one another. They, at times, have difficulty in cooperating at the meeting so the representative of each department is not expected to be able to reflect the opinions of other departments. Sometimes the level of the posts inside the enterprise might be a factor to cause the representative to be too concerned to speak up, or even allows some conflict opinions to arise. Objectively speaking, the representatives of the labor side do not easily reflect the opinions of the collective laborers. Therefore, there is a difficulty if the enterprise wants to call a labor-management meeting to communicate equally with mutual confidence and to reach a consensus between the collective labor and the management side.

​     Is a union a trouble maker? Actually, if a good and loyal communication modus is established between the enterprise and labor union, the labor union will consider the issue from the point of view of the enterprise. The labor union can collect employees’ opinions first then actively follow up proposing a solution. On the other hand, if the enterprise can get the consensus of the labor union, when planning to promote a new policy or to implement a new system, such as a mechanism of granting special rewards for reaching a certain sales performance or of drawing up the standard of performance evaluation, the labor union can actively communicate with employees to help the enterprise implement the policy.

​     For the labor-management relationship, rather than every four years choosing an unspecified labor representative, it’s better for enterprises to have communication through the labor union, which is a communication platform that is more stable and effective.
 
  • The current status of Taiwanese enterprises’ labor unions
​     Compared with the Japanese Labor Union Act, of which article 1 prescribes that the aim of the Act is to promote the equal positioning for bargaining between the labor side and management side, and thereafter to enhance the position of the laboring side, the legislation of the Taiwanese Labor Union Act clarifies in article 1 that the aim of the labor union is for promoting labor unity, enhancing laborer’s position and improving the laborer’s life. The legislation seems good, but in fact the content of the provision tends to lay stress on the procedure of the regulation of the labor union’s organization and its management. The original aim of establishing a labor union, labor-management negotiation and the methods and protection measurements of reaching the labor-management negotiation, doesn’t seem to have a practical function.

​     The employees can elect their own representatives to undergo negotiation on the labor conditions. The employees can act collectively  and independently organize a labor union to sustain the labor solidarity.

​     For stipulating the labor-management relationship and assisting in the relevant procedures, the labor union helps the employees to process the collective negotiations and conclude collective agreements. The aim of establishing a labor union is to help employees to negotiate on an equal  footing with the employers; and the aim of legislating the LUAL is to assure the labor union to gain an equal negotiating position, including the ability to impede the employer’s improper labor behavior.

​     However, in Taiwan at present the management side is still antagonistic to a labor union. In newspapers and magazines, we often read the news reports, such as, the employer said “There are too many labor unions.”, “Bargaining with a labor union is just like bargaining at the markets.” or “Google is successful because it has no labor union.” The preceding arguments reflect that the management side is not very aware of the concept of the labor union.

​     According to the labor statistics data posted by the Ministry of Labor, in 2017 33.2% of the companies have labor unions. The ratio seems high, but putting the “trade union” aside, which is traditionally considered to focus on the labor and health insurance agency business but not to focus on fewer negotiations on labor conditions and labor-management   relationships, the organization of labor unions at the enterprise and   industry level only takes up 7.6%.

​     In comparison with other countries, in 2015 the organizing rate of labor unions of Taiwanese enterprises and industries levels is 7.3%. While compared with other countries of which economic development is higher than Taiwan, the labor union rate is: 10.2% for Korea, 19.7% for Singapore, 17.4% for Japan, 11.1% for the U.S., and for European countries it’s even higher. In comparison to other countries, the labor union ratio in Taiwan is small, which in turn makes for overall poorly efficient labor-management bargaining or collective agreements.
 
  • How to organize a labor union and how important the labor union is
     The preceding paragraphs focus on the labor union of enterprises. At present the types of labor unions stipulated in the LUAL are corporate unions, trade unions, industrial unions and syndicated organizations made by the preceding labor unions.

​     The steps for starting a labor union are as follows: a labor union needs over 30 employees and they have to sign a petition to start a preparation meeting, formulate a corporate charter, call a meeting to pass the decision to create a union and register with the competent authority for  the certificate. The detailed regulations, application forms and procedure guidelines can be researched at the central competent authority, Ministry of Labor, or the local competent authority, Department of Labor of each county or the city government. It is possible to consult with the person who is in charge of this matter. Many labor unions or labor organizations will be pleased to offer assistance.

​     Why is organizing a corporate union important? Currently the law grants the corporate union the rights, which includes the right of consent by the labor union regulated in the LSA. They are extending the work hours, females working at night, changing the work hours, adjusting the restrictions of overtime hours, adjusting the intervals of the shift rotations and adjusting the regular leaves and etc.

​     The assignment of representatives of labor side at the statutory committee, which includes labor-management meeting, occupational safety and health committee, supervisory committee of workers’ pension preparation fund and employees' welfare committee, is expected to be decided by the labor union not the labor-management meeting. The submitting of the collective labor-management dispute and issue and the signing of the collective agreement are undertaken by the labor union as well. The labor union will accompany labor inspectors to do inspection.

​     This means that only if the enterprise laborers organize the labor union,the preceding rights will be implemented by the representative chosen by the union itself, the cadres and the labor union, so that all laborers’ rights can be genuinely protected.

​     However, the enterprise union has some limitations, such as the current labor union, which must be organized by at least 30 people. For the small and medium enterprise in which there are less than 30 employees, it is impossible to organize a corporate union. With the limitation of the number of the employees, the scale of the labor union can’t be developed well, and the resources for manpower and finance are limited as well. If the cadre of the corporate union doesn’t have any full time clerk at the union, it will be hard to promote the union business.

​     As for the issue of the overall industry structure, industry special labor conditions or national labor policy, the individual corporate union can’t respond to it adequately.

​     Although establishing a corporate union is important, the development of an industrial union is also of importance. If a labor union fails to be organized in an enterprise within a short period, they are encouraged to assemble and organize or join an active industrial union of  the same field.

​     The most important thing is that the employees can unite and be granted the rights through organizing or joining a labor union. We look forward to seeing that the laborers can endeavor together to daily working environment for themselves.