TAIWAN: 'China Times' employees scrap strike in narrow vote

Goal of strike was to seek better job security and severance pay for laid-off employees after the newspaper announced it would lay off 575 people last month

Taipei Times
Friday, July 18, 2008

By Jenny W. Hsu

One of the country's four largest newspapers, the Chinese-language China Times, barely avoided catastrophe yesterday when union members came within five votes of launching a comprehensive strike that would have started today.

The 243-member union needed at least 122 votes in support of the strike. After discussions that lasted all day, 117 members voted in favor of the plan.

The strike would have included workers at the paper's three printing presses and would have brought production to a standstill starting today, with the goal of seeking better job security and severance pay for laid-off employees.

A China Times reporter who declined to be named said that some of the union members had been bought off by the company ahead of the vote.

"We don't have any bargaining chips left now that the strike has been voted down. I wouldn't be surprised if the China Times shuts down in a few years if this is the way it treats its employees. Who in their right mind would want to stay when your job security is always in jeopardy?" he said.

"This is extremely bad news because it means that the company has leverage over the workers," said another China Times reporter, who also declined to be named.

The reporter said that most of his colleagues had lost their work motivation since the paper decided last month to cut its workforce by 575 employees.

Most of the lay-offs affected reporters on the local news desk who have been with the paper less than five years, he said.

The China Times Group said the lay-off of staff was necessary because demand for newspapers is shrinking.

The union proposed the strike to seek two demands: that all remaining staffers be guaranteed at least five years of employment and that the China Times Group compensate those affected by the cut with severance pay equivalent to four months' salary.

At the meeting yesterday, publisher Chou Sheng-yuan offered an olive branch to employees.

After consideration, Chou said, the paper will only lay off 430 employees instead of 575 and all those who are laid off will receive one month's salary as compensation.

"We sincerely hope employees will empathize with the paper's dilemma and not turn the paper into a laughing stock," he said.

The China Times was founded in 1950 as Credit News and focused on price indices. In 2006, its sister paper, the China Times Express was forced to shut down, citing sales hit by readers turning to the Internet for news.