Whenever there is a major accident or incident concerning public safety, the nation debates who is to be blamed and what is to be done. Monday’s tour bus accident that killed 33 people has stirred society into a frenzied search for causes and solutions, but what has been done since the tour bus fire on July 19 last year?
That fire killed all 26 on board the bus, prompting Minister of Transportation and Communications Hochen Tan (賀陳旦) to quickly call for industry reforms. He promised more inspections, stricter certification review processes and enhancement of the safety of large passenger vehicles.
He was not alone in urging reforms; the public talked about the issue of overworked drivers and reassembled vehicles.
However, all discussions seem to come to an abrupt halt when it was discovered that the fire was the result of the driver’s suicide; he was reportedly depressed over family business and resentful about a sexual assault conviction months before.
That the driver had reportedly often complained about long work hours and low pay and that locks had been installed on emergency exit doors to prevent theft faded into oblivion when the fire was blamed on the driver, but overwork and vehicle safety standards are real: They might not be the cause of Monday’s accident, but they could be for the next.
Although the investigation into Monday’s accident is ongoing, according to the daughter of the bus driver involved, he had worked for 16 days straight prior to the incident.
It is also suspected that the roof of the bus easily came off when the vehicle plummeted down an embankment because the vehicle had been reassembled.
The question of what has been done since July is not aimed at embarrassing the government, but is a microcosm of the general situation when it comes to following through on promises and regulations.
Differing interpretations of drivers’ work hours — a travel agents’ association claims that a driver working 16 consecutive days does not mean driving for all that time, so drivers are not overworked — and the discovery that neither the bus company nor the travel agency involved had taken responsibility for the driver’s labor insurance, highlight slack government oversight.
When the government’s “one fixed day off and one flexible rest day” policy was debated, it had already been repeatedly pointed out that the crux of Taiwan’s poor working conditions lie not just in the rules, but how effectively workplace inspections are conducted and punishments are administered.
It is not only that rules do not exist, but that those that do exist are not followed and government oversight is erratic.
However, the privilege that some employers enjoy could also be attributed to people believing money is a priority over health and safety, or the government making exceptions in the face of corporate protests.
The government in September last year exempted public transport services during national holidays from following the rule stipulating that one day-off has to follow every six working days. Therefore it is not illegal for drivers to work 12 consecutive days flanked by two days off. It should be.