President defends labor amendment

By Chen Wei-han  /  Staff reporter

Thu, Dec 07, 2017 - Page 1

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday defended a proposed amendment to the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法), saying it would increase flexibility in the workplace, while promising that she would endeavor to raise salaries and prevent overwork.

Ahead of a meeting of the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Central Standing Committee, Tsai said the party accepts all criticisms of the amendment, which cleared a critical legislative committee review on Monday amid heated opposition.

If passed, the bill, which the DPP claims would increase work flexibility, would exempt some sectors from the one mandatory day off every seven days requirement and increase the minimum rest time between shifts from eight to 11 hours.

It would also raise the maximum monthly overtime hours from 46 to 54, but cap three-month total overtime at 138 hours.

Tsai reiterated that the amendment would not change total working hours, the five-day workweek policy, total allowed overtime and overtime rates.

It would provide businesses and workers a higher level of flexibility, while ensuring the four basic labor protections, she said.

In the 33 years since the act was promulgated in 1984, Taiwanese industries have experienced major changes, but few corresponding modifications have been made to the ever-changing industrial structure, which was why she asked the DPP to develop a new legal framework and propose new policies on protecting labor rights at the DPP National Congress on Sept. 24, Tsai said.

The labor legislation in December last year, which introduced the “one fixed day off and one rest day” five-day workweek scheme, is aimed at protecting employees, but a single criterion cannot meet the needs of businesses for work flexibility, she said.

“I want to emphasize that allowing flexibility for special [working] conditions does not mean normalizing extreme [working] conditions. Necessary protection mechanisms will not be neglected. The well-intentioned flexibility [mechanism] cannot be allowed to be abused,” Tsai said.

“Small and medium-sized enterprises are transitioning and offering them flexibility does not necessarily mean giving them [higher] profit margins, but rather ensuring their survival. Likewise, for many basic workers, flexibility means more than just overtime pay, but whether they will be able to support their family,” she said.

Supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, which account for nearly 80 percent of the nation’s industries, while helping them to transition and upgrade, is key to transforming Taiwan’s economy, Tsai said.

“Let me assure that, during the transition, the government has to and will step in to address the overwork issue. I have ordered my administration to ensure strict law enforcement to prevent overwork while also preventing regulations from being too stiff,” Tsai said.

“I also promise that, in the face of the long-running low-salary working conditions, the government will help small and medium-sized enterprises to transition, in addition to offering flexibility to give workers better salaries. We will also push for increases in the minimum wage so everyone can share the benefits of economic growth,” she said.

“Much criticism has been directed at us. Like I said yesterday, I will take the ultimate responsibility. The DPP has made the decision and will accept all criticism,” Tsai added.