Students stage skit to protest labor law amendments

2017/12/03 17:56:51 fontsize-small fontsize-default fontsize-big
nine students shaving their heads and leading the chanting of all 86 articles of the law.

nine students shaving their heads and leading the chanting of all 86 articles of the law.

Taipei, Dec. 3 (CNA) Hundreds of people took part in a "dharma assembly" Sunday in which they chanted the "mantra on Labor Standards Act" to pray for blessings for Taiwan's workers, in the latest of a series of protests against the government's proposed amendments to the law.

The event led off with nine students shaving their heads and leading the chanting of all 86 articles of the law to a common mantra melody in a setting that featured paper houses, ghost money and other offerings traditionally burned for the deceased.

It was held outside the Executive Yuan in a manner that imitated practices commonly performed at funerals in accordance with Buddhist or Taoist traditions, in a satirical reference to Premier Lai Ching-te's (賴清德) recent controversial remarks regarding caregivers.

With the government's plan to push through the amendment in the legislature, the law is "on its deathbed," said an organizer acting the part of a ritual master at funerals. "We were here to bless Taiwan's workers, hoping they will not suffer from overwork."

Wang Wen-yu, the only female student to shave her head bald, told CNA that she did it to support the fight for workers' rights.

"I didn't find it hard to decide to shave my head. It was the right thing to do and I went for it," she said.

Lai recently employed a religious concept in Buddhism and Taoism that those who practice good deeds to benefit others will reap rewards when he gave a speech at an event held Nov. 24 to launch a long-term care hotline service.

The premier suggested that caregivers look past their low salaries and treat their jobs as undertaking good deeds, a remark that drew criticism for his perceived disregard for the low pay and onerous working conditions faced by caregivers.

Although Lai quickly clarified that his intention was to encourage caregivers and apologized for failing to make himself clear, his remarks added fuel to the fire for critics already furious over the proposed amendment to revise the five-day workweek rules.

The Executive Yuan on Nov. 9 approved the amendment that it said is aimed at making work rules more flexible for both employers and employees.

Labor groups and trade unions have since staged several rallies and a 269-hour hunger strike, while academics have leveled acerbic criticism against it in legislative hearings.

Adding to the list of groups, the young people used creations of various types of parody revolving around religious elements as a form of subculture protest, treating the government's policy of relaxing overtime rules with creative playfulness.

Chao Jen-chen, a junior at National Taiwan University and a member of the group that initiated the protest via online discussion, said that the idea of holding the "dharma assembly" was inspired by the religious concept employed by Lai.

"I thought the idea was creative too. It was funny. The goal of expressing our dismay over the amendment in such a manner was to inspire more people to be creative in coming up with more creative ideas to thwart the amendment," Chao said.

One of their other protests Dec. 1 saw the name signs for the Executive Yuan at bus stops, on street signs and at MRT stations near the Executive Yuan compound covered with stickers or graffiti that read "Merit Yuan," a reference to that religious concept.

Other examples included the famous Heart Sutra being reinvented as a scripture of how the amendment, if passed, will adversely affect workers as it will leave them vulnerable to overwork and shorten their rest time between shifts. Sarcastic caricatures in the form of Taoist talismans were also featured at the event.

Lai last week held two meetings with Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers to persuade some of them who do not align with the government on certain provisions under the amendment, in the hope that the draft will clear the preliminary review this week. Labor groups have scheduled a protest outside the Legislature for Monday.

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan)

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