Government resolves toll collector labor issues

  • Date: 2016-08-29

I. Background

On December 30, 2013, the government replaced the national freeway network’s conventional flat-fee, semi-manual toll collection method with an electronic toll collection (ETC) system that automatically calculates tolls based on distance traveled. The Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) and Far Eastern Electronic Tolling Company (FETC), which now handles toll collections, also instituted a job reassignment plan that specifically requires the company to absorb all of the laid-off toll collectors and provide guarantees regarding the right to work, compensation, benefits, work locations and job transfer compensation.

Because the former toll collectors had different seniority levels, were mostly female, and dispersed throughout different cities and counties, the plan to absorb them into the new electronic system created numerous complex disparities affecting their family lives and career plans. The plan also failed to consider their individual circumstances, especially the difficulties faced by middle-aged and technical workers in changing jobs, with 183 people left in dire financial straits because they did not receive new job placements. The toll collectors therefore formed a self-help association to draw the government’s attention to their plight, holding continuous street protests for over two years and calling for compensation for lost seniority and labor insurance benefits as well as a diversified placement plan.
President Tsai Ing-wen had long been concerned about emergency relief and protecting the rights and interests of the former toll collectors, and on August 17, 2016 the Executive Yuan finally reached an agreement with the self-help association and relevant labor groups to provide the necessary subsidies and assistance to those who had been harmed during the job reassignment process.


II. Why the government agreed to provide subsidies

A. Failure to implement a well-devised job reassignment program

Toll collectors lost their jobs or needed job reassignment assistance as a direct result of government transportation policy. Therefore, a comprehensive, five-stage job reassignment plan was necessary: overall organization and division of labor; detailed operational planning; communication with toll collectors; plan implementation; and plan follow-up.

The Taiwan Area National Freeway Bureau and FETC did not take that comprehensive approach, however, and the toll collectors were not invited to fully participate in the reassignment process, which in turn did not fully meet their needs. The toll collectors were thus compelled to form a self-help association to protest against the government and the FETC. But after more than two-and-a-half years of protests the former toll collectors were under physical and psychological duress, their households had suffered financial losses, and the social costs were incalculable. Both the government and the FETC had to assume responsibility for the initial job reassignment and placement plan, which was neither comprehensive nor effective.

B. Care for the disadvantaged, press for corporate social responsibility

Due to their long-term protests and lack of protection of their rights, many former toll collectors were financially strapped. Since the government is obligated to care for the disadvantaged and protect citizens’ right to work, it was imperative to step in and help resolve these issues.

The government therefore set up a task force to negotiate with FETC and got them to agree to take corporate social responsibility, and to the best of their ability, take responsibility for paying former toll takers a fixed monetary subsidy based on their seniority, job reassignment results and any unfair conditions imposed on them.


III. Government-provided assistance

A. Appropriate subsidies

The government agreed to use special subsidies to compensate the former toll collectors for losses resulting from unfair treatment on a special-case basis based on the following principles:

1. The same principles applied to all former toll collectors, regardless of whether they were members of the self-help association or not.

2. In formulating an overall subsidy plan, in addition to seniority, other factors to be considered included the impact of systemic reform on workers’ livelihoods and any disadvantageous impact on their individual lifestyles.

3. Subsidy amounts varied based on different individual circumstances to ensure that each individual received the proper amount.

4. A task force comprising government representatives, impartial members of society, and representatives from the toll collectors self-help association and the FETC was to be established to conduct case reviews and subsidy distribution in a fair and reasonable manner.

B. Employment assistance

As of press time, 183 members of the self-help association have yet to find jobs. The Ministry of Labor will help them upgrade their work skills and find employment as soon as possible, and provide employment subsidies through various employment assistance programs.


IV. Conclusion

The protracted and complex issues surrounding job reassignments for the nation’s former toll collectors were ultimately resolved through the cooperative efforts of government agencies and their proactive intervention.

This compensation case was handled using special subsidies because a government policy change caused jobs to be transferred from one industry category to another; it will not serve as a precedent for future cases. To prevent future labor-management disputes resulting from government public policy implementation or negotiations, the rights and obligations of the labor-management relationship will be stipulated at the outset to avoid the unfair treatment of labor, avoid unnecessary conflicts, foster social harmony and facilitate industrial development.