by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: 玄史生/WikiCommons/Public Domain

A LABOR DISPUTE late last month involving an illiterate cleaner working at online shopping outlet, which mostly sells books, has attracted a great deal of public sympathy. 

Namely, was accused of tricking the cleaner into signing away her rights as an employee by having her sign a contract as a contractor rather than a permanent employee. This occurred despite the fact that the cleaner had worked as a cleaner at for 21 years, with set working hours, areas that she cleaned, and having to adhere to the same rules for clocking in and out as permanent employees. 

Reportedly, the cleaner in question only realized that she was a contractor and not a permanent employee after she was told that would not be renewing its contract with her. She reportedly never had labor insurance, a pension, or annual leave. When it terminated her contract, the company did not provide her with severance pay. There were no wage record cards or a worker record card kept for the woman. 

Controversy over the case began after Chen You-xin, a lawyer retained by the cleaner, publicized the details of the incident online. Chen, who previously ran unsuccessfully as a city councilor candidate of the Social Democratic Party, has a well-known following. This was what resulted in significant public attention to the case. 

After news broke, the President Chain Store Corporation, which owns, stated that it had suspended general manager Chiang Cheng-hsin and was investigating the case. later announced through Liu Wei-ting, lawyer retained by the company, that it had come to a confidential settlement with the cleaner for the past twenty-one years of work, which included severance pay and pension fees. 

Photo credit: Jirka Matousek/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Regardless, the Ministry of Labor and Taipei City Department of Labor have stated that they intend to investigate for violations of the Labor Standards Act. Among the articles of the Labor Standards Act violated include Articles 7, 23 and 38, which individually result in fines between 20,000 NT and 1 million NT. The amount of the fine will depend on the settlement from and the company’s response. 

After the incident, Liu Wei-ting posted an audio recording of the cleaner stating that she had come to a settlement with, in which she thanked the company. Liu was critical of Chen’s actions, stating that there was no need to go public with the case, resulting in Chiang Cheng-hsin’s suspension, and damaging’s reputation as a company. After Liu’s involvement in the case, the cleaner terminated her contract with Chen, and according to Chen, her family took over the mediation partner. 

Other legal professionals, such as well-known lawyer Lin Zhi-qun, as well as Chen’s fellow lawyer Shen Yuan-kai, have defended Chen’s going directly to the public to get results. Lin highlighted that Chen going public with the case resulted in the quickest resolution of the case for his client, and suggested that should pay the legal fees for Chen’s services. 

Chen You-xin’s public response, however, was that he did not mind the outcome because the case had been pro bono from the beginning and he hadn’t accepted any fees. Consequently, Chen has been praised by a number of members of the public. 

The case highlights how companies defend themselves in cases of wrongdoing, then, using public morality about their reputations, or that cases should be resolved privately as misunderstandings rather than publicized. 

But, to this extent, the case raises concerns about how contract workers are treated in Taiwan, and cases in which permanent employees are made to sign away their rights as contract workers or otherwise tricked into doing so. 

Likewise, the case raises the issue of the rights and protections that the illiterate should have. However, perhaps somewhat similarly, one already notes many cases in which blue-collar migrant workers are made to sign away rights or forced into unfair contracts by taking advantage of their inability to read Chinese–in many ways, the situation proves similar for the illiterate. And though the case was resolved in relatively short order because of the publicity it received, it raises the issue that there are likely a greater number of similar cases that are unreported on. 

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