The five-day workweek has become a new standard for economic activities. However, some enterprises are private and some are public; some operate under time pressure, while others operate under routine conditions, so it is difficult to generalize. Once it became the law, hardworking, dedicated employees started fussing about leave and legal holidays, raising demands and defending their legitimate rights.
Hospitals cannot decide when patients get sick, and it is more difficult to deploy staff, tackle the chaotic duty and vacation timetable, and discuss shifts than to handle the rising cost of manpower. Research units need cell culture, but cell growth and research progress do not match the five-day workweek. The law is being enforced across all departments, so there is a real chance of being fined.
The government implemented the changes because it wants to protect workers. The intention was good, but the review and transition period were omitted, which resulted in widespread complaints.
Employers say that the cost of labor is rising and employees complain about not getting enough overtime, because their bosses close their businesses on Saturdays and Sundays and try to find ways to squeeze their profits into Monday-to-Friday operations. The result is rising costs across the board.
The law was well-intended, but it has created a host of new problems for a lot of people, and this needs to be addressed.
Now that the well-intended five-day workweek has been implemented, it is unnecessary and impossible to retrace our steps. The following proposals could help solve the problems:
First, at this stage, inspection departments should only inspect public enterprises and monopolies, as well as labor disputes filed by members of the public.
Second, private enterprises should be encouraged to set up their own leave regulations that guarantee holidays based on the nature of their industry and work, without having to rigidly adhere to the five-day workweek. This should be treated as a special case subject to regular review.
Third, the government should review the human resource requirements and cost impact of the upcoming “long-term care services program 2.0.” It is not difficult to foresee that providing the human resources required for long-term care would be a money pit.
A strength of Taiwanese industry is the high quality and conscientiousness of its employees. The five-day workweek is intended to eliminate overwork and bad working environments, not to eliminate the quality and hard work of the Taiwanese workforce. The nation has limited resources and is under great demographic pressure. Survival does not depend merely on comparing the number of working days and holidays with that of other nations.
A government should strive to manage state-owned firms and monopolies, and it should not spoil staff and drag down performance. When it comes to economic activities that involve the public, all that is required is reasonable and legal supervision. More leeway should be given to private enterprises, and government intervention is necessary only in cases of labor exploitation or abuse, such as overwork.
Despite the policy’s good intentions, if the government is unable to supervise its implementation and it only becomes a reference for law-abiding people or inconveniences or disadvantages them, public authority is certain to collapse.
Today, being a good government means creating benefits for the public and eliminating irregularities and corruption, while allowing the public to go about their daily lives without too much interference.
Lin Xi-zhang is a professor of medicine at National Cheng Kung University.
Translated by Lin Lee-Kai
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