The Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) reversed a decision yesterday, saying that firms must not pay full-time employees less than the minimum monthly wage of NT$17,280 when they take unpaid leave.
“If, in order to cut costs, businesses plan to make full-time salaried workers take temporary unpaid leave, businesses must first obtain the worker’s consent. Monthly salaries may be reduced in proportion to the reduction in hours, but may not be lower than the minimum wage of NT$17,280,” Council of Labor Affairs Minister Jennifer Wang (王如玄) said.
This was a new interpretation of the Labor Standards Law (勞動基準法), updating the stance taken by former CLA chief Chen Chu (陳菊) in 2001, she said.
Because it is the company, not the workers, that is responsible for the unpaid leave, the company should be the one taking responsibility, by ensuring its workers receive adequate compensation to cover their basic needs, she said.
Whether it is fair to pay less than the minimum wage during periods of unpaid leave was “not an issue of right or wrong, but merely a different cost-benefit evaluation,” she said.
She justified the council’s former stance by saying that some employers might layoff workers instead of negotiating unpaid leave, resulting in even more job losses.
“It turns out that many companies thought monthly salaries could not fall below the minimum wage, so it seems that businesses would be willing to comply [with the new interpretation],” she said.
Council officials have held numerous meetings since legislators across party lines attacked the council on Monday for turning its back on workers. The lawmakers said workers could not fight their employers’ unfair practices for fear of losing their jobs.
Legislators and labor unions were outraged by Wang’s comment on Monday that if workers on unpaid leave received less than the minimum wage, “they could apply for the subsidies available to low-income families.”
Workers could file complaints against employers who violate the new interpretation, Wang said. Violaters could face fines ranging from NT$6,000 to NT$60,000.