Council of Labor Affairs Minister Pan Shih-wei (潘世偉) held a press conference on Friday last week at which he announced several key policies. These include adjustment of the minimum monthly wage, allowing working hours to be distributed over 26 weeks, and making two days off each week applicable to all workers.
Each of these policies will have a big influence on employees’ working hours and wages. Take the basic monthly wage, for example. Originally, workers were expecting a raise as early as April, but now Pan says that the policies may not take effect until later.
The council’s plan to let employers extend the period over which working hours can be distributed to 26 weeks, in exchange for an agreement to give all employees two days off per week, is even more ridiculous. What on Earth is Pan up to?
The council’s basic wage review committee approved a rise in the minimum monthly wage in August, but the daily wage increase was less than the price of a boiled egg. Then-premier Sean Chen (陳冲) even said the next minimum wage hike could not happen unless the nation’s economic growth rate exceeded 3 percent for two consecutive quarters, and if unemployment remained below 4 percent.
The economy is likely to meet these requirements in the first quarter of this year, but Pan has said the council might not make the promised adjustment and that it will be discussed once the basic wage review committee holds its annual meeting in the third quarter.
Does Pan think he can renege on Chen’s decision just because Chen has to step down? As the nation’s top labor affairs official, Pan should be trying to get the basic minimum wage raised quickly, otherwise why should he have the post of labor minister?
It is also unfair for the council to allow companies to extend the period for adjusting working hours to 26 weeks in exchange for giving employees two days off a week. This is sure to cause hardship for workers.
If the change is meant to assist in manpower needs during high and low production periods, are the current two-week, four-week and eight-week periods for adjusting working hours not enough? Don’t companies already have the option of employing workers on six or nine-month contracts, or taking on agency workers?
The existing systems are good enough for employers to deal with manpower shortages that may arise, so why is the government allowing bosses to redistribute working hours over a full half-year? What industry has half-year-long busy and slack production periods anyway? Is Pan talking about ice cream shops and duck stew restaurants?
Pan must be aware that the International Labour Organization made a 40-hour working week the norm at its Forty-Hour Week Convention in 1935, meaning that Taiwan is lagging 78 years behind the international standard. Moreover, one of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) promises during his campaign for the 2008 presidential election was to give all workers two days off a week.
More than half of all Taiwanese companies give their employees two days off already. Conditions are ripe for implementing the universal two-days-off policy. There is no need for the council to compensate employers by letting them distribute working hours over a 26-week period. Is Pan a bad negotiator, or is he scared of offending the Council?
Pan is supposed to stand up for workers’ interests. The policies he announced last week are all about working hours and wages, which are critical for workers’ livelihoods. If Pan thinks he is doing the right thing for workers, he owes them a good explanation.
Shieh Tsuan-chih is secretary-general of the Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions.
Translated by Eddy Chang