Controversy surrounding employees’ work hours and days off has been complicated by the government. Some clarification is warranted.
Both the Ministry of Labor and the Executive Yuan want to remove seven national holidays, but their plan has been obscured by new labor policies. The government says that it wants remove the holidays to ensure consistency across the board and coordinate with the five-day workweek.
First, it is deceptive to claim that there could be consistency across the board. A little research reveals that although an employee — who has worked at the same company for 10 years and is given 15 days of annual leave — still enjoys 19 national holidays, they only get 34 holidays in a year, which is less than the 39 holidays that public servants enjoy, as they have 11 national holidays and 28 days of annual leave.
Moreover, which private-sector employees dare to use all their annual leave? When employers owe employees annual leave, the ministry says it happens because the employees choose not to use it and so the employers do not have to compensate them.
Once the seven national holidays are scrapped, an employee, who has worked at the same company for 10 years, will only have 27 holidays per year: far less than the 39 days that public servants enjoy. Is this the sort of consistency across the board that the ministry is talking about?
Second, coordinating with the five-day workweek is just an excuse for the government to acquiesce to employers’ demands. Even if the two weekly holidays are counted as two fixed days off, it does not mean that the seven national holidays should be removed.
People should look at what other countries have done when work hours have been reduced.
Which country has scrapped national holidays in order to implement a five-day workweek? The ministry is still campaigning for this policy, but there is no reason to do so apart from catering to employers’ needs.
By the same token, a little bit of research shows that although Japan and South Korea have 40-hour workweeks with two days off, their national holidays were not sacrificed to make that happen.
Employees with 10 years of service at a company in Japan and South Korea get two days off per week, and they also get 36 and 35 additional days off per year respectively, combining national holidays and annual leave.
With 19 national holidays and the five-day workweek, Taiwanese get 34 days off, slightly less than in Japan and South Korea. If the number of national holidays is cut by seven days, Taiwanese workers would be far worse off than those in Japan and South Korea.
What has been discussed so far is based on the premise of thorough implementation of the five-day workweek. However the “one fixed day off and one flexible day off” policy that the government plans to introduce does not really give employees two days off per week.
Even if the ministry increases the overtime rate on flexible days off to 1.33 and 1.66, it is still operating with the mindset of paying by the hour, instead of resting by the day.
In addition, the much touted overtime rates of 1.33 and 1.66 to be paid on flexible days off suggested by the ministry are the same overtime rates as on regular working days.
As employers can ask workers to work on their flexible days off, they have a massive incentive to demand workers get work done on regular working days without working overtime, and then ask them to work overtime on Saturdays, as the same overtime rates apply to both regular working days and flexible days off.
If the weekly two days off can be turned into working days, with payment calculated by the hour, and the five-day workweek loses its binding force on employees’ right to rest, the flexible days off will be manipulated by employers in a variety of ways to minimize cost and maximize profit.
The ministry said that employers might not necessarily want employees to work on Saturdays, but the opposite is equally true — employers might not necessarily allow employees to rest on Saturdays.
The evolutionary policy that the ministry has been promoting is essentially a malicious measure that gives employers total authority to decide whether to allow workers’ rest days.
If the ministry really cares about whether workers can earn extra money by working overtime, perhaps what it should do is adjust the overtime rate for regular work days instead of taking away employees’ days off.
Otherwise, this is just a return to the sad old days when workers had to slave away at the expense of their physical health and then spend their hard-earned money on medical treatment for their withered bodies.
In addition, maximum overtime is still 46 hours, so it makes no difference whether employees work on Saturdays. If it is really necessary to ask employees to work overtime, asking them to do so on regular working days should suffice. If the government must turn the weekly two days off into one fixed day off and one flexible day off, it might be because employers want to retain the right to demand that their workers work on Saturdays.
It appears as if the ministry and the Executive Yuan are plotting to convert a policy that cuts the number of work hours into a policy that scraps national holidays and makes employees work on Saturdays.
As far as employees are concerned, the demand could not be simpler. All they want is two days off each week and the original 19 national holidays, which altogether gives them 123 days off per year.
If the government is still trying to make policies to please employers, workers will have no choice but to fend for themselves and fight for the right to rest that they are entitled to.
Lu Chyi-horng is a member of the 2016 Labor Struggle Alliance.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
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