A veteran labor rights activist, Lai Hsiang-ling (賴香伶) has participated in various union strikes since the 1990s. In 2014, she was elected to head Taipei's Department of Labor. Compared to the department of labor commissioners in other cities, Lai appears to be extremely progressive and energetic. Some have even jokingly praised her as "the only department of labor commissioner in all of Taiwan."

In 2019, after Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je established his Taiwan People's Party (TPP), Lai was named as TPP's top party list candidate for the upcoming elections. Aside from improving Taiwan's labor conditions, what else does Lai want to accomplish in the legislature?

TNL: Why did you decide to run in the legislative election as a TPP candidate? Were you hesitant about your decision?

L: Yes! I thought I was just going to fulfill my time at the department of labor when Mayor Ko first asked me in August. But I didn't consider what he said seriously until October. I agree with the mayor in building a trustworthy government, and we both want to achieve more in terms of execution. So I started to think about whether we should revise some existing laws or suggest new legislations.

TNL: What are your three biggest areas of concern?

L: We can't avoid facing the issue of long-term care. It involves healthcare resources and taxes, and the system itself would run into financial problems. But what's even more difficult is the lack of labor resources in long-term care. Could we refer to examples in other countries and adopt them in Taiwan? Is there a way we could break away from the one-on-one elderly care (mostly carried out by migrant workers)? Perhaps we could look into expanding daycare centers or community facilities, etc. We already have over 200,000 migrant workers in the existing one-on-one system. If we're going to re-allocate them into a community-based system, we would need time.

The second challenge is the new form of employment, which is the new economy platform that transforms the traditional work style. We have to accommodate freelancers, startups with only seven to eight employees, coworking spaces, which will all challenge the existing labor law and regulations. We may not have to revise our laws immediately, but we should observe the restructuring of the new labor force.

My third concern has to be gender equality. The infrastructure (policy and benefits) for gender equality is there, like childcare subsidy and maternity leave. But when the mothers return to work, they can't always demand the companies to adopt a more gender-friendly policy. I've heard an example where a company of 20 or 30 employees has hired a nanny in the office to take care of a few toddlers. But we don't have any laws to mandate that kind of benefit.

TNL: If you're elected, what are the top three legislations you would like to promote?

L: The first one has to be the Labor Union Act. To form a labor union, the law requires signatures by at least 30 workers, which would prevent many of Taiwan's small- and medium-sized businesses from forming unions.

The second one would be working on a typhoon day — whether it should count as a holiday or not. There's a lot of debate around it. Our government doesn't even have a guideline on whether we should get a day off when there's a typhoon. The police and firefighters, for example, have to stand by for any disastrous situation, so a typhoon day is useless to them.

For the third one... I want to revise too many bills so I don't know where to start. For example, we could have intervened before the Far Eastern Air Transport layoff by conducting risk evaluation or mandating an internal labor director. Since a labor director is only required for state-owned enterprises, private businesses are unregulated in this regard and the worker interests are unprotected.

There have been too many similar cases that we should look into revising the law.

TNL: What values of the TPP do you identify with?

L: I particularly agree with the mayor's ideas in establishing a government that's trustworthy, and the party is very adaptable and diverse.

TNL: Will you consider cooperating with the KMT or the DPP?

L: The legislature's potential for progress depends on the diversity of opinions. In the past, a certain party had dominated the legislature but still claimed to value different opinions. But now, big parties and small parties, or even the legislators themselves, have changed fundamentally. You don't have to argue about party monopoly or whatnot. As long as you can find legislators to collaborate with and you support their ideas as well, you shouldn't eliminate them from your options.

Only when we remove party politics can we realize that our legislature should strive towards the values that are treasured by the majority of this country. If establishing a trustworthy government is our priority, then we need to set up laws that are executable and make our workers feel proud of pushing forward these legislations.

Progressive laws, such as the ones that are labor-friendly, should not be promoted simply based on a party's identity. If we can establish a consensus, then we shouldn't eliminate the idea of working with different parties.

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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