Declaring a holiday during periods of especially high temperatures was “open for discussion,” Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said yesterday in a positive response to a renewed call by labor rights groups.
Taipei’s high temperatures in recent days have prompted labor rights groups to call on the government to consider declaring a holiday when hot weather makes the work environment unbearable.
While the Council of Labor Affairs on Thursday rejected the idea on the grounds that there is no nation where a working day is declared a holiday due to high temperatures, Jiang yesterday said the issue could be discussed by experts at the Central Weather Bureau and the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
Later yesterday, Directorate-General of Personnel Administration Minister Frank Huang (黃富源) said that Jiang had instructed his agency to set up an intergovernmental meeting next week to discuss the matter.
Asked for a response yesterday, Council of Labor Affairs Minister Pan Shih-wei (潘世偉) maintained the council’s position, saying that employers are obliged to provide working conditions for their employees that do not contribute to medical problems caused by hot weather.
Since the responsibility lies with employers, it should not be prescribed by law that a working day be declared a holiday for especially high temperatures, he said.
“A day with high temperatures being declared a holiday could create a new issue,” Pan said. “Should we also declare a day with low temperatures a holiday?”
Employers are already subject to laws and regulations governing labor safety and sanitation in rest areas, and making food and drinks available for employees exposed to high temperatures, Pan said.
However, in practice, there have been very few cases of employers being fined for violations of the rules, Pan said, adding that the council would urge local governments, which are responsible for workplace inspections, to enhance inspections.
Meanwhile, Central Weather Bureau Director-General Shin Tzay-chyn (辛在勤) said the bureau would recommend to the Executive Yuan that employees be given a break from working outside when the temperature is higher than body temperature, but added that it would not recommend all workers be given a day off in high temperatures.
As an island, Taiwan’s temperature is constantly being adjusted by onshore winds, he said. Unlike continental nations, where the temperature would continue to rise, he said the hottest time of the day in Taiwan is generally between 11am and 2pm, and the temperature gradually cools after that.
“High temperatures are not likely to affect the nation all day. If workers should be given a day off because of high temperature, when should the government make the announcement? In the morning? At about noon? All these are issues to be considered,” Shin said.
According to the bureau’s records, the highest temperature since records began was recorded in Taitung City on May 9, 2004, when the mercury hit 40.2°C. The temperature soared because of a foehn wind, the bureau said.
Rather than proposing holidays, Shin said the bureau would recommend that employees not work in direct sunlight.
“If the temperature exceeds 37°C, which is higher than body temperature, workers should go inside or stay in the shade to avoid heat stroke,” he said. “Because high temperatures generally occur at about lunch time, workers should be given time to rest, eat and drink, before returning to work again at about 2pm or 3pm.”