2011 / 6月
Chen Hsin-yi /tr. by Phil Newell
1. Permitting diversification of forms of union organization
The new Labor Union Act divides unions into three types: corporate unions (also referred to in the law as "enterprise unions"), industrial unions, and craft unions. In the past, union organizations at the basic level were limited to a single shop or factory floor. The new act allows formation of unions at the enterprise level (different shop floors in the same firm), industry level (workers from different companies in the same industry), or craft level (persons in the same profession), and also allows formation of single unions across geographic boundaries, which was also forbidden in the past.
2. Creating an arbitration mechanism for "unfair labor practices"
In the past, management often tried to suppress unions by transferring, demoting, or firing union organizers and members. Under the amended Labor Union Act, such actions are defined as "unfair labor practices." The Settlement of Labor Disputes Act expressly provides that if employers resort to such tricks, the union can apply to a special "decision commission" established at the central government level with specific responsibility for such cases. If the union wins the arbitration decision, the employer must restore the previous situation (for example, must rehire a fired worker in his or her original job) and employers can even be fined.
3. Adding a duty for employers to negotiate collective bargaining agreements in good faith
The purpose of the Collective Bargaining Agreement Act is to allow labor to collectively reach a contract with management that is superior to the minimum conditions set by law. However, because the two sides are not in symmetrical positions, there were very few cases in the past of collective bargaining agreements being signed, and even in cases where there were such agreements, they were largely mere formalities.
With this in mind, the amended act states that employers may not refuse to negotiate such an agreement without a legitimate reason. Management tactics such as phony negotiating, delays in negotiation, deliberate boycotting of negotiations, and refusal to provide data essential to negotiations are now clearly defined as being unacceptable. This should create opportunities for bringing labor and management to the negotiating table.
4. Providing guarantees against civil or criminal retribution for job actions
Under the old Settlement of Labor Disputes Act, the only legally protected protest activity was "passive failure to deliver labor services." This greatly weakened the ability of unions to fight capital. For example, strikes, by far the most important bargaining chip unions have, were limited by the above rule to "sitting quietly at home." If workers actually tried to block the entrance to a factory or prevent replacement workers hired by the company from going to work, they could face legal retaliation.
In contrast, under the newly amended law, protected "protest activities" include "a strike or any activities impeding normal business operations or against the business, con-ducted by a party to a labor-management dispute to accomplish the objective underlying its claim." Employers may not claim civil damages for such activities, and so long as there are no criminal acts as defined by the Penal Code, such protest activities are not punishable in any way. These changes should be very significant in making unions much more effective in practice.