The Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) yesterday said it plans to loosen restrictions on recognizing death from overwork and to transfer the burden of proof to employers in a bid to decrease instances of occupational injury and death.
In recent months, the council has been accused of not adequately protecting workers’ rights and turning a blind eye to the growing number of people who die suddenly from overwork, a phenomenon that is especially prevalent in the developed economies of East Asia, such as Japan. Labor activists and lawmakers have said the council was neglecting the problems of hazardous work environments and the near impossibility of getting fair compensation for overwork-related deaths under the current system.
The council said it is currently in the process of loosening restrictions to make it easier for doctors and investigators to qualify a case as death or injury from overwork based on human resources records detailing the hours an employee worked up to the day of the incident and by determining the burden such work imposes on employees.
Other factors that could affect whether a case is recognized as being caused by overwork include events at the workplace that could be considered out of the ordinary, such as assignments that cause extreme anxiety or tension.
Aside from short-term overworking, the council also plans to examine long-term working conditions, such as whether an employee put in an average of more than 37 hours of overtime per month in the one to six months prior to injury or death.
The types of illnesses that can be attributed to overwork according to the council’s definition currently include cerebral hemorrhage, cerebral infarction, myocardial infarction, acute heart failure and aortic dissection. In the future, new angina pectoris, serious cardiac arrhythmia, cardiac arrest and sudden cardiac death may be added to the list of illnesses that can lead to sudden death from exhaustion.
The council also plans to transfer the burden of proof to employers, so that in the event that an employer is unable to provide evidence that the worker has not been literally worked to death, the council would take the employee’s side.
The issue of death from overwork came into focus early this year, when a 29-year-old engineer at Nanya Technology Corp triggered widespread criticism that Taiwanese firms, especially electronics manufacturers, make their employees work inhuman hours, a problem compounded by the fact that victims’ families rarely receive labor insurance compensation because it is difficult for courts to conclude with any certainty that the death was a result of long working hours.
The man, surnamed Hsu (徐), began working at Nanya in 2006 as an engineer and frequently worked overtime — as much as 139 hours a month. Before his death, Hsu had been putting in about 80 hours of overtime each month for six months. His parents found him dead in front of his computer at home on Jan. 11.
Despite signs that Hsu died from overwork because of his high-stress work environment — leading to cardiac arrest in a young and healthy adult — a court ruled his death was unrelated to his work.
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