As the saying goes, one should make hay while the sun shines, but given the government’s approach to the coming era of digital innovation, it clearly has never heard the saying.
There have been a string of controversies, from those sparked by ride-sharing services such as Uber and the so-called “sharing economy” to the panic over information security caused by civil servants’ personal data being hacked from the Ministry of Civil Service’s Web site.
Time and again, the government seems to find itself caught unprepared and facing a problem that it could have easily avoided with a bit of cautious preparation. Only after a problem snowballs does it attempt to coordinate communication across agencies.
For the government, it is clearly a case of “the less trouble the better,” and the ones running in front would always bear the responsibility.
This explains the chaos surrounding the food delivery business, which has grown out of control — regulations seem to have little effect and laws seems to be absent without leave.
Following a series of fatal traffic accidents involving couriers working for online food delivery platforms, sensationalist headlines of couriers earning more than NT$100,000 per month were quickly replaced by couriers as “orphans” — excluded from labor insurance — risking their lives to earn a bonus.
It was only then that government departments took action. The Ministry of Labor on Monday said that it would conduct special labor inspections and clarify whether couriers are independent contractors or employees of the platforms.
On the same day, the Financial Supervisory Commission said it would ask the Non-life Insurance Association to suggest suitable insurance products to the labor ministry within one week for consideration.
These online food delivery platforms appeared in Taiwan as early as four to five years ago, so it is bewildering why they only received the government’s “careful” attention after launching promotional campaigns that gained them massive business exposure and were followed by two fatal traffic accidents that occurred over the Double Ten National Day long weekend.
A retired government administrative official once said it well: “The purpose of meetings is not to solve problems but to share responsibilities.”
This is the typical bureaucratic mindset of “the less trouble the better.” People who take things seriously would end up being assigned more tasks. Under such circumstances, only a fool would work hard.
Patching things up still works, but the worst scenario is to amend laws by hitching onto the wagon of heated public opinion.
German food delivery provider Foodpanda, for instance, treated its food couriers as employees, providing them with labor and health insurance, until July, when the platform unilaterally changed the employment relations into contractual relations and cancelled the insurance.
The company must have been terrified by the nation’s labor costs as stipulated by laws that demand that employers pay 70 percent of labor insurance premiums and 60 percent of the national health insurance premiums for its employees.
In the foreseeable future, the rate of labor insurance premiums is likely to continue to experience regular increases.
The food delivery platforms, which have been burning through cash to subsidize consumers and gain market share, would need to speed up streamlining as labor costs increase.
Kao Chia-ho is a reporter of finance and economics at the Liberty Times (the sister newspaper of the Taipei Times).
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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