The circumstances of Monday’s tour-bus crash returned the government’s new labor policy to the spotlight. The five-day workweek with one fixed day off and one flexible rest day was implemented with the hope of giving people more time off and preventing the nation from returning to the days of low-wage sweatshops with long hours.
However, the policy has been met with protests from both employers and employees, the former complaining about a lack of flexibility and rising costs, and the latter complaining that they no longer receive overtime pay while workloads remain unchanged.
The five-day workweek was designed with blue-collar workers’ fixed hours and job descriptions in mind, but it also applies to those in the service industry who have flexible hours and job descriptions.
This has had a significant effect on businesses, particularly those in the transportation, hotel, tourism and healthcare industries.
Changes in the number of national holidays, the doubling of overtime pay on flexible rest days and increases in production costs are causing difficulties for companies, affecting their competitiveness. This is a vicious circle that might force companies to move overseas or cease operations, which could lead to rising unemployment. This also makes it more difficult for companies to train and promote staff, which in turn makes it difficult for companies to become sustainable.
The Labor Standards Act’s (勞動基準法) operational guidelines must address the specific conditions of different industries and offer different requirements.
For example, most professional drivers are between the ages of 45 and 65, and the evaluation of their physical capabilities, cognition and audiovisual reflexes is used to provide regular training, helping reduce the risk of traffic accidents caused by slowing reflexes.
However, although the new labor policy restricts working hours to eight per day and maximum consecutive work days to six, the driver of the Iris Travel Service Co bus that crashed had worked for 16 consecutive days. Driving a bus over that many days can cause chronic fatigue.
From the time the driver left home at 5am on Monday to the accident, 16 hours had passed. Although some say that only time spent behind the wheel should count as work hours for a bus driver, being on duty for such a long time would add to fatigue.
There are laws, but no enforcement measures or strict controls: No wonder employers pay lip service, but then do as they please.
Although the five-day workweek policy is new, there has been a wave of complaints. A social consensus seems to be building that the regulations are too rigid and must be amended. The government must not be inflexible in a misplaced attempt to save face, which would only result in both the government and the public paying a high price.
It is possible to emulate the Japanese labor standards act by adapting applications on an industry-by-industry basis, creating a special labor chapter for the service industry and relaxing unrealistic regulations. This would be the right way to create a more appropriate, rational and reasonable work environment.