Determined battle for pension rights and an end to contract labour
A strike by Nan Shan Life Insurance workers is entering its fourth week and has spread from Taipei to the cities of Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung. The Nan Shan workers’ union organises 5,500 of the company’s 30,000 workforce. Another bank union in Taiwan is now also discussing strike action, showing the radicalising effect of this struggle. CWI Taiwan has been actively assisting the strikers since the start of the strike. With petitions, leaflets and The Socialist magazine, CWI members have organised joint stalls with strikers to reach out to other finance sector workers and appeal for solidarity action – specifically refusing to sell Nan Shan products. We are calling on CWI members and unionists around the world to send messages of support for this struggle (details below).
On 29 November, Nan Shan Trade Union, organising employees at Nan Shan Life Insurance, approved the decision to launch a strike, which marks the first time throughout Taiwan’s labour movement history that the right to strike is practiced by workers in the insurance industry! In order to seize back the reward that all employees deserve, to resist the unilateral adjustments on the working conditions made by the company, as well as to stand against a series of salary cuts, the trade union launched its top mobilisation order, calling for members all over the country to vote for the strike action along with the demands.
After a week of nationwide voting, Nan Shan Trade Union passed the strike action decision with the support of 75 percent of its 5,500 members. The strike began on 9 December with the full solidarity of the trade union. Many of the members mentioned that during the vote they were threatened by the bosses, who have also been making every possible effort to stigmatise the trade union and suppress the voting rights of the members. Nevertheless, members of the trade union remain united.
This strike has two demands as indicated in the press release issued by the union. First, it rejects Nan Shan Life Insurance’s unilateral raising of the performance qualification by as much as three times higher. Second, it is written in Nan Shan’s Article of Incorporation that at least 1 percent of profits should be allocated to the employee bonus account. The net profit of Nan Shan Insurance in 2014 was 21.2 billion Taiwan dollars (NTD) and grew even further over this last year. The Nan Shan Trade Union is demanding, for the internal staff, a general pay rise of 10,000 NTD and an additional month of annual bonus. For the external staff it is demanding a 20 percent rise in the commission rate for every product and an increase in the annual bonus ceiling from 11 to 15 percent.
The CWI in Taiwan completely supports the demands of Nan Shan Trade Union and we will stand by the workers to demonstrate our solidarity. As stated by Qiu – the vice president of Nan Shan Trade Union – one of the major controversies is that the bosses unilaterally asserted that the salesmen for Nan Shan Life Insurance have a contract relationship (i.e. outsourced or ‘self-employed’) rather than being employed directly thus attempting to evade relevant labour laws and avoid the responsibility for a pension allocation by doing so. After legal action taken against Nan Shan by the Bureau of Labour Insurance, the Supreme Court declared that the internal and external staffs of Nan Shan, regardless of their positions, have the status of being directly employed. This court decision, however, has never been obeyed by the Ruen Chen Group, the parent company of Nan Shan Insurance. The company instead decided turned to sue its 137 employees through civil action in order to deny them the employment relationship. The company hired notorious lawyer Chen Chang-wen to deny the labour rights of its employees, putting the various accused employees under huge mental pressure as a result. The unequal and one-sided availability of resources in court cases puts many salespeople in a vulnerable position.
Biased court decisions
After dozens of civil actions, Nan Shan openly claimed a victory in being able to refuse employment status. Although the trade union had also turned to the local officials of the Department of Labour for assistance, their bureaucratic and pro-capitalist attitude offered the trade union no real help.
It can be seen here that legal action often acts as the instrument adopted by capitalists to oppress workers, since the capitalists are wealthy and powerful enough to mobilise various resources in legal action to combat the workers. The judicial system alone is not enough to fight for justice and only by organising the workers for a mass struggle will it be possible to change this unjust situation!
CWI Taiwan agrees with the demands of the trade union, calling for the capitalists to acknowledge the employment relationship (end outsourcing), not to evade the labour laws and to fully meet its responsibility in relation to pension provision! In 2009, as part of a disposal of overseas assets due to the global financial crisis, the US multinational AIG sold Nan Shan Insurance at auction, putting Nan Shan Insurance under the control of Ruen Chen. The Ruen Chen Group promised the Financial Supervisory Commission at the time that the labour rights of all Nan Shan employees would be guaranteed; in reality it has paid no attention to the demands of the Nan Shan Trade Union since then. What’s worse is that throughout the negotiation with the trade union’s representatives the bosses kept attacking the trade union with methods like legal action. They even rewrote the labour contract unilaterally without the consent of the labour representatives. How hateful those capitalists are!
CWI Taiwan street stall raising support for Nan Shan strikers
After the company was taken over by the Ruen Chen Group, the Nan Shan Trade Union has held 18 demonstrations and protests, but the capitalists still keep their arrogant attitude and continue to ignore its demands. The union had obeyed the law in holding negotiation meetings with the bosses. In these meetings, however, most of their demands were rejected and the negotiations finally broke down. It was the bosses ignoring labour rights that forced the trade union to act – like David against Goliath. The members at Nan Shan could no longer endure the time-wasting negotiations and were therefore united in launching the strike!
CWI Taiwan supports the demands of the Nan Shan Trade Union and will stand by the brave members on strike. The path to victory can only be opened when workers are united and realise the strength of solidarity! The profits of today’s Nan Shan Insurance have been created by its workers. Therefore the conclusion must be drawn that the vicious oppression and exploitation by the Ruen Chen Group can only be fundamentally be resolved with nationalisation of Nan Shan Insurance and workers’ democratic control. Let us get the fruit of the workers back for them!
Send protests now!
Please send protest letters to the Board of Directors of Nan Shan Life Insurance and ‘cc’ to Nan Shan Trade Union (addresses below). By copying and pasting the following model letter in Chinese this will help both workers and bosses to understand your communication:
[Translation: Protest letter to the board of Nan Shan Life Insurance Company
I/my organisation protests against the exploitation of workers by Nan Shan Life Insurance in refusing to increase salaries and commission and in denying them employment status in order to evade labour laws and pension entitlements. We further protest against your use of law courts to attack the union and your threats against workers prepared to go on strike.
The worldwide labour movement is watching this dispute and the conduct of your company, which is violating democratic norms and disregarding the labour laws. We support the just demands of striking Nan Shan employees and express our full solidarity with their struggle.]
Please send to:
Nan Shan Life Insurance company Board of Director
AIG Taiwan: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nan Shan Trade Union: email@example.com
CWI Taiwan: firstname.lastname@example.org