Sat, Dec 23, 2000 - Page 1 News List

Workweek row takes new turn

NEGOTIATIONS The opposition's idea is to go ahead with the 84-hour-per-fortnight measure, but still to allow employers to negotiate longer hours with their employees

By Stephanie Low  /  STAFF REPORTER

Hundreds of textile factory workers join a protest in front of the Legislative Yuan yesterday in support of employee rights.

PHOTO: CHEN CHENG-CHANG, TAIPEI TIMES

Opposition lawmakers yesterday put forth a compromise measure that may end the ongoing workweek dispute.

At issue is whether Taiwan's workers will put in 44 hours of work per week beginning Jan. 1 or 84 hours per fortnight.

Lawmakers have proposed keeping the 84-hour-per-fortnight measure, but still want to allow employers the ability to negotiate with their employees to schedule longer hours.

"In principle, we still stick to the 84-hour-per-fortnight measure," said Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆), convener of the New Party caucus. "But we will offer some flexibility and complementary measures."

Under the proposal -- which has been jointly endorsed by leaders of the KMT, People First Party and New Party caucuses -- the maximum number of hours an employee is required to work cannot exceed 84 in a two-week period.

However, the limit could be set at 88 hours over a two-week period if employers obtain union approval or if at least half of a company's workers agree. In addition, local officials in charge of labor affairs must formally approve the plan.

PFP caucus spokeswoman Diane Lee (李慶安) said involving labor affairs officials would help facilitate mediation in case of a dispute.

The opposition legislators said the proposal is pending the consent of labor representatives before the measure can be passed in the next Legislative Yuan meeting on Tuesday.

While industry representatives have accepted the proposal, labor groups have yet to weigh in on the idea.

"The two sides will take the proposal back to conduct further internal discussions. We are doing our best to seek a solution that satisfies both of them," said KMT caucus whip Her Jyh-huei (何智輝).

Opposition lawmakers put forth yesterday's proposal after labor groups refused to sit down to negotiate with the DPP legislative caucus, which was pushing the Executive Yuan's plan to introduce a 44-hour workweek on Jan. 1.

Worker representatives have insisted that the legislature stick to its June 16 decision to go for an 84-hour-per-fortnight measure.

Lin Huei-kwung (林惠官), president of the Chinese Federation of Labor, said that its members have not changed their minds as of yesterday, but the group will keep close tabs on developments in the legislature.

Meanwhile, some workers expressed fear that if employers were offered the ability to negotiate with employees, workers who want shorter hours but lack popular support would be forced to accept a longer workweek.

"It's impossible for workers who are not organized to fight with their employers. This is like making workers accept a 44-hour workweek automatically," said Wuo Young-Ie (吳永毅), secretary-general of the Committee for Action for Labor Legislation.

But a different group of workers from the textile industry offered a different opinion at the Legislative Yuan yesterday.

These workers said because their employers have earned less money due to the slowing economy, further shortening the workweek would simply worsen the situation.

"If our factories are closed down, we will lose our jobs," one of the textile workers said.

In addition, Academia Sinica President Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲) urged lawmakers to reconsider the workweek issue, as shorter hours will hurt productivity.

Lee said because employee paychecks won't decline after the workweek is shortened to 84 hours per fortnight from 48 hours per week today -- a 4.5 percent reduction -- Taiwan firms would need to increase productivity by 20 percent.

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