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Wed, Aug 23, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Flexitime causes labor ruckus

WORKING HOURS Leaders of labor groups say that the Council of Labor Affairs is favoring industry by considering flexible working hours as a solution to employers' gripes about the impending shortening of the workweek

By Irene Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) is facing a boycott by labor groups over its "flexitime" policy, a practice which allows employers to utilize man-hours more economically, but which could also mean more stress and less pay for workers.

While yesterday marked the third month since CLA Chairman Chen Chu (陳菊) took office, it turned out to be a disappointing occasion as she failed to convince labor leaders to accept the council's flexitime policy.

The Executive Yuan announced in mid-June that it had successfully brokered a consensus between labor groups and industry representatives to have the workweek reduced to 44 hours.

However, on the same day the KMT came up with a proposal to reduce working hours to 84 hours every two weeks. The proposal was successfully pushed through the legislature on June 17.

Industries have protested the change and vigorously lobbied to have the amendment overturned, or to at least be allowed the flexibility to arrange man-hours according to production cycles.

Such an arrangement would allow employers to concentrate work time without breaking the fortnight limitation in cases where they have to rush to meet production deadlines.

In view of strong protests from industrial leaders, the CLA is seeking adjustments that would allow this flexibility without infringing on labor rights. However, it appears little progress will be made as industry and labor groups are apparently far apart over the issue.

The nation's employers say that productivity will suffer serious setbacks when weekly working hours are reduced on Jan. 1 next year. They urged the government to propose modifications to "flexitime" legislation as a way for employers to more economically utilize the diminished man-hours.

But labor groups have condemned the flexitime proposal. They say the measures would allow employers to enforce extended working hours, which could put laborers under extreme stress and deprive them of overtime pay during extended shifts.

The CLA has scheduled three public hearings on the workweek issue, the first on Aug. 30, followed by others on Sept. 4 and Sept. 7.

Chen originally expected that the meetings would be attended by industry and labor leaders, but labor groups yesterday refused Chen's invitations, saying they feel the CLA has tilted its support in favor of employers.

"We oppose any form of conference that the government holds under pressure from the employers. And it's impossible for us labor groups to take part in the CLA's public hearings with preconditions having been laid," said Lin Hui-kuan (林惠官), president of the Chinese Federation of Labor (中華民國全國總工會).

With the boycott by labor groups, Chen decided yesterday to cancel the first public hearing. But she said she will continue to negotiate with the labor groups about their participation in the other two.

At a press conference, Chen mapped out the CLA's plans for the future, which include raising the quality of manpower, ensuring safe working environments and improving the well-being of laborers.

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