Labor law must not force uniformity

By Steven Lin 林祖嘉  / 

Tue, Nov 14, 2017 - Page 8

The Cabinet has proposed to amend laws to address dissatisfaction with the “one fixed day off and one flexible rest day” five-day workweek policy.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Yan Kuan-heng (顏寬恒) posted a funeral scroll on Facebook, offering mock condolences over the policy’s “untimely demise.”

In a measure of how unpopular the policy is, the post received more than 2,000 “likes.”

It is thought that the Cabinet’s decision was made as a result of huge pressure from all corners of society.

Indeed, many stipulations of the five-day workweek policy that came into effect at the beginning of this year are rigid and even unreasonable.

For example, any overtime work up to four hours is counted as four hours of work; between four and eight hours is counted as eight hours of work; and eight to 12 hours of overtime are counted as 12 hours. How were such rules passed?

Moreover, what the industry complains about most is the obligation to give workers at least one fixed day off every seven days, because employers must pay employees 1.33 to 1.66 times their original wages for time worked on a rest day, in addition to an extra day off.

Therefore, if employers ask employees to work on a rest day, they need to pay them up to 2.66 times their original wages. As a result, employers are forced to give employees at least one fixed day off every seven days.

Originally, the policy was made with workers’ interests in mind, giving them at least one rest day every seven days.

However, due to the nature of different jobs, it is necessary for some workers to work for more than seven consecutive days and the cost of such jobs is likely to surge under the policy. This is a problem for industry.

The most famous example occurred during President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) visit to Taiwan’s allies in Central and South America in January, when most journalists covering the trip had to follow her during the nine-day itinerary.

When they complained to her on a plane that they were unable to have at least one fixed day off every seven days, she said they should go talk to their bosses, not her, telling them to fight for their own rights, as if it had nothing to do with the government.

Problems arise due to the policy’s rigidity, but the government simply tells workers to negotiate with enterprises themselves, even though the rules allow no room for negotiation or flexibility.

People in many professions need to work for many consecutive days, and the policy causes problems in many other professions, too.

For example, when a tour guide leads a tour group on a long trip, it is not practical to demand that they take one or two days off during the trip. The policy should allow for greater flexibility, instead of applying the same rules to all sectors.

Another contentious issue is the number of overtime hours, as the regulations stipulate that a worker’s overtime hours should not exceed 48 hours per month. Again, the key to the problem is the lack of flexibility, because the workload in the low season and the high season can be different for some sectors.

There are two possible directions the amendments could take.

The first is raising the limit for the total number of overtime hours from 48 to 54 hours per month and the second would be more like a “work-hour bank,” enabling workers to deposit and withdraw overtime hours while counting the total overtime hours once every three months.

That way, workers could work more overtime hours during high season without exceeding the total of 144 hours every three months.

The second direction would clearly provide employers and employees with greater flexibility and the “work-hour bank” would be a better solution.

Another possible amendment would revert the rule that workers should have at least 11 consecutive hours of rest between shifts to its previous state, which required eight consecutive hours of rest.

However, such an amendment should be approached with caution.

It is true that companies should be given greater flexibility, but it is tiring for an employee to work for many consecutive days, and insufficient rest between shifts could affect occupational or even public safety.

For example, a bus driver or an airplane pilot is responsible for the safety of potentially hundreds of passengers, so the government must impose strict rules on their rest hours between shifts.

To sum up, from work to overtime and rest hours, the situation varies greatly in different professions. As a result, when the government amends the labor rules, it should display flexibility and should not impose uniformity.

It should discuss its proposals with industrial associations and the union representatives of each sector according to that industry’s characteristics to benefit employers as well as employees.

Steven Lin is an economics professor at National Chengchi University.

Translated by Eddy Chang