Sun, Jul 15, 2018 - Page 6 News List

EDITORIAL: Depoliticizing typhoon decisions

A decision by the New Taipei City Government to call a typhoon day on Tuesday, canceling work and classes in the city, was criticized by Keelung Mayor Lin Yu-chang (林右昌), who said it was politically motivated.

Lin said that he and Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) believed the decision was made out of fear that New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), who was in Singapore at the time, would be criticized for not being in the city when it was hit by a typhoon. Lin criticized the city government for putting this year’s nine-in-one elections ahead of other considerations.

Typhoon days are often politicized in Taiwan and Tuesday’s controversy, along with a protest in Taipei the same day, only served to justify politicians’ concerns. Regardless of how cancelations are handled, there is always a segment of society that will be required to work, some because of the nature of their jobs and some because they commute between cities.

Citing the results of surveys it conducted, the Sales Worker Union said at the protest that during each of the four major typhoons over the past three years — Soudelor, Nepartak, Meranti and Malakas — more than 70 percent of department store sales clerks were forced to work.

Decisions regarding whether to work on typhoon days are entirely up to department stores’ upper management and sales clerks have no say in the matter, the union said, adding that employees are docked pay or fired if they do not show up.

Several unions protested the issue in June last year, with Union 95 president Catta Chou (周于萱) at the time accusing employers of profiting from typhoon days, saying that many people who have the day off would brave the weather to go to movie theaters or shopping malls.

Obviously there are occupations for which people simply must be on duty, such as emergency and police personnel, and those in the media, but those in non-essential jobs, such as customer service, should not be expected to show up for work when others have the day off. This is especially true given their lower pay and the reliance on taxis during typhoons.

Taiwan is not the only place where employers independently decide whether to cancel work, or where local politicians decide whether to close schools and offices. The US states of Florida and Louisiana, which are frequently hit by tropical storms, are employment-at-will states, where employers can legally terminate workers who fail to show up due to inclement weather. If employers there do cancel work, they are not obliged to pay hourly wages.

However, while state-level decisions on work cancelation make sense in the US, given the country’s political structure and size, in Taiwan these decisions are best made at a central level, which would take the pressure off politicians and prevent the use of such decisions to serve political aims.

It would also better ensure the safety of the public.

Lawmakers in November last year urged local governments to seek advice from the Central Weather Bureau before declaring typhoon days. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chen Ou-po (陳歐珀) at the time warned that leaving such decisions to local governments rather than professionals is risky.

Despite progress in predicting a storm’s intensity by including data such as sea-surface cooling and salinity levels, it is still difficult for meteorologists to make accurate predictions about tropical storms more than two days ahead of their arrival. Decisions about typhoon days must be left with the bureau, which can best judge a storm’s potential effects.

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