Capping physicians’ working hours at 84 per two weeks, as stipulated in the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) for all other professionals, would cause a manpower shortage in the healthcare sector, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) said in response to a demand made by physicians on Sunday to be included under the law.
A limit to the numbers of shifts and beds assigned to each medical resident has been part of the assessment criteria for educational hospitals since 2011 after a resident collapsed due to suspected overworking, the ministry said.
Guidelines for protecting residents’ labor rights were released in May for hospitals to use as a reference when drawing up a contract with residents, the ministry said, adding that the guidelines are partly based on US regulations for resident working hours and set an upper limit of 88 working hours a week.
Responding to physicians’ call for labor law protection, the ministry said that the Council of Labor Affairs has been mulling an abrogation of the act’s Article 84-1.
The article allows certain types of workers to “arrange their own working hours, regular days off, national holidays and female workers’ night work through other agreements with their employers” so scrapping it could lay the groundwork for the inclusion of medical residents into the law.
Without the article, the ministry said that the working hours of residents and physicians could be limited to 84 hours every 14 days since special employment arrangements would no longer be permissible.
However, such a change would drastically affect the functioning of hospitals and patient access to medical care, the ministry said.
It cited unspecified reports published recently in the US saying that although limiting the length of shifts may improve residents’ quality of life and reduce medical errors resulting from fatigue or lack of sleep, on-the-job learning might be diminished and other types of errors could increase since each case would be handled by larger number of doctors.
Curbing residents’ working hours would also require finding new sources of manpower to fill in the ensuing labor vacuum, the ministry said.
In contrast to looking to the US as an example, law professor Lin Chia-ho (林佳和) said Germany’s labor protection laws were a better lead to follow when he called for the inclusion of physicians in the act on Sunday.
“Following a collective agreement pushed for by physicians and labor unions, German physicians’ weekly working hours are now the same as other professionals’ at 48 hours,” Lin said.