Over one month of negotiations between a labor union and the management of a Homebox home furnishing store broke down on Nov. 25, leading to a strike that blocked the entrance to a store branch in Hsinchu City, a scuffle with police and the arrest of union leaders.

Nineteen employees were fired without warning on Oct. 17 as Homebox prepared to shut down its Taoyuan branch in December. The labor union sent a letter of protest to management on Oct. 23, but the company did not respond. The governments of Taoyuan City and Hsinchu County were called in to mediate.

As a result of the mediation, all workers at the Taoyuan branch would be given until the end of the year before being laid off.

The Taoyuan government believed that because the Taoyuan branch was closing, the Hsinchu government would be in charge of protecting the workers. On Nov. 13, company representatives, labor union leaders and officials from the Hsinchu government met to discuss the situation.

The union had two demands. First, it asked the Hsinchu county government to hold a labor mediation meeting immediately. Second, employers must give the workers preferential severance pay and year-end bonuses.

Huang Ai-long (黃愛龍), a representative of the parent company, said that the Taoyuan branch had been affected by the greater business climate and that the Taoyuan store had lost many customers to e-commerce. Huang said that the company had consulted with union members on Oct. 31 and said that salaries would be paid even if they were sent on special leave before the official closure. Huang added that everything was legal and the company was acting in good faith.

Union officials said that the company refused to negotiate and pressured individual employees to sign resignation papers. Employees of the Taoyuan branch also complained that they were made to stand for long periods of time because of a shortage of labor and were forced to work overtime without pay, as well as cover shifts on national holidays. They also claimed that they were threatened with transfers to work at the the Hsinchu and Zhubei shops 40 and 50 kilometers away, respectively. The complaints come at a time when the government is reviewing amendments to labor laws that would offer employers and workers greater flexibility as regards their overtime arrangements.

The union voted to strike, and made a resolution on Nov. 25 to blockade the Hsinchu shop until negotiations resumed. They asked that the management of Homebox come forward to continue negotiations. Thirty union members gathered in front of the Hsinchu Homebox and blocked the entrance, at which point police were called to the scene. Police clashed with the protestors and arrested five, including the president of the labor union. Union leaders said that the arrests were illegal.

Local police said that the union had blocked the gates of the store and stopped customers from entering and exiting. Clashes broke out with customers, so the police had been called to enforce the law. Police also claimed that protestors had resisted, resulting in one officer dislocating his hand. City representatives said that they shouldn’t have blocked the entrances and exits or stopped customers from shopping.

Attorney Qiu Xian-zhi (邱顯智) said that five had been charged with crimes in Hsinchu, adding, “The sky is dark when those who fight for their labor rights cannot go home.”

On Nov. 27, they shifted their protest to the Homebox Zhubei branch. The labor union said that they would continue the strikes until their demands were met.

An unabridged Chinese-language version can be found here.

Editor: Morley J Weston