As the legislature plans to kickoff multiparty negotiation over draft amendments to the Labor Standards Act next Monday, 5 legislators from the New Power Party staged a series of unexpected protests on Friday, attempting to disrupt the DPP caucus’s plan to pass the draft amendments before January 10. The series of protests began when 5 NPP legislators broke windows of the general assembly chamber’s doors inside the legislature and locked the doors with chains to prevent other legislators from entering the chamber. Members of the DPP caucus later broke into the chamber by destroying the chains with hydraulic cutters, forcing the NPP legislators to retreat to the speaker’s podium. After about an hour, the NPP legislators decided to leave the chamber and march towards the Presidential Office.
At around 6 p.m., the NPP caucus announced that they would start a sit-in style hunger strike in front of the Presidential Office, declaring that they would remain there until President Tsai Ing-wen made a proper response to their demands. Like several of the protests against the proposed labor reform last month, a large number of police officers were deployed to the scene, and what followed was a stand-off between members of NPP and the police, which lasted for several hours. Minor clashes erupted as the police tried to prevent legislative aides from NPP and other protesters from joining the sit-in. Eventually, a small group of them were allowed to join the legislators for the hunger strike.
As the hunger strike dragged on, police began to form a restricted area around the Presidential Office with barbed wire fences, denying protesters access to join the sit-in. A little bit after midnight, NPP legislator Hsu Yung-ming attempted to lead a small group of legislative aides into the restricted area, but was informed by the police commander that only legislators and legislative aides with proper IDs could enter the restricted area. Unable to break through the police’s defense line, Hsu subsequently decided to shift aims by demanding to enter the police station with the NPP legislative aides. A stand-off and minor skirmishes followed as Hsu continued to question the police commander’s legitimacy to deny the group’s access to enter the police station. Eventually, Huang Kuo-chang arrived and successfully led a small group of NPP members into the restricted area, while rest of the protesters were asked by the police to leave the scene as they continued to set up razor wire barricades around the Presidential Office.
In the early hours on Saturday, minor clashes erupted again as police forcefully dismantled four of the five tents set up by NPP. With only one tent left at the scene, the NPP legislators and other members continued the hunger strike throughout the day, and at 7 p.m., 24 hours after the sit-in started, they held a press conference, reemphasizing their determination to continue the hunger strike despite official responses from the Presidential Office and other members of DPP, asking members of NPP to end the hunger strike and continue rational discussion next week inside the legislature.
“Even though access to the restricted area continues to be under strict control while the police keeps attempting to force us leave the area through different measures, our faith remains strong,” said Huang. “Our peaceful, rational and very humble demands remain the same. We hope DPP and President Tsai Ing-wen can remember their campaign promises to the labor force, and listen to the voices of the labor force, as well as the younger generation. We hope they can withdraw the draft amendments and create more opportunities for discussion over labor reform.”
After the press conference, the hunger strike continues and situation remains peaceful at the scene. However, at 12:19 a.m., police forcefully removed the last tent at the scene, leaving NPP members lying on the ground in the pouring rain. Despite the sudden move from police, NPP members remain at the scene.
While it is hard to expect DPP and the Tsai administration to change their plan regarding the proposed labor reform, the series of unexpected protests staged by NPP can potentially help to fuel the momentum of subsequent anti labor reform protests scheduled next week. Meanwhile, a consistent pattern has emerged from the Tsai administration’s response to and handling of protests organized to challenge their plans in the last few months. The administration remains largely unwilling to initiate proper dialogue with the opposition and civil rights groups, while it continues to rely heavily on deploying large number of police force to prevent grassroots activism from escalating out of their control. With their plan to pass the proposed labor reform through the legislature before January 10 remains unchanged, it is now up to labor rights groups and opposition parties to come up with a different plan that may be able to force DPP and President Tsai Ing-wen back to the negotiation table.
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