Fri, Aug 21, 2015 - Page 3 News List

Counter staff at risk in typhoons: activist group

WORK HOLIDAY:The group called for designating typhoon days holidays as department store staff are compelled to work, but not given extra compensation

By Abraham Gerber  /  Staff reporter

The Ministry of Labor should designate typhoon days as official work holidays, Youth Labor Union 95 activists said yesterday, citing what they said are unfair work requirements imposed on department store staff.

“Department stores endanger the lives of counter staff in their quest for consumer dollars,” Youth Labor Union 95 president Catta Chou (周于萱) said. “Even though the Ministry of Labor said employers should not dock employees’ pay if they arrive late and should give extra salary and allowances, this is just official rhetoric, which employers feel free to ignore.”

She cited an online survey of 1,725 female department store staff conducted via the union’s Web site which found that 79 percent of respondents had gone to work when Typhoon Soudelor swept the nation earlier this month.

More than 80 percent of respondents from major department store chains such as Eslite, Shin Kong Mitsukoshi, Far Eastern Department Stores and SOGO said that showing up for work on typhoon days was mandatory, with similar percentages stating that they received no additional salary or other compensation.

Chou said that department stores backed up typhoon day work requirements with fines, which could see female staff docked up to a day’s salary for arriving late and more than two days’ salary for failing to show up.

While department stores sometimes delay opening times, anonymous representatives of female staff complained of unreasonable notification policies that put them unnecessarily in harm’s way.

“We cannot wait at home to be notified by our supervisor as we are very afraid of being fined,” a Far Eastern Department Stores employee surnamed Lin (林) said.

She said that her supervisor notified her that the opening times of the store would be pushed back during Soudelor only after she had already arrived at the store.

Company policy forbids counter staff from calling in to ask about working hours in order to keep the lines open for customers, she said, adding that taking a taxi to the store cost NT$400, while her daily salary is only NT$700.

A former department store employee who wished to be known as only “Lily” said that taking a taxi on a typhoon day is normal because counter staff are required to arrive several hours before the stores open, at times when trains and MRT lines have often yet to begin operating.

Chou said that department stores’ typhoon day requirements violate the Labor Standards Act (勞基法) prohibition of forced labor.

However, because the ministry has not legally designated “typhoon days” as “official holidays,” department stores cannot be fined for requiring staff to show up for work, she said, calling on the ministry to make the designation and establish a labor inspection task force to monitor store compliance.

Department of Labor Standards and Equal Employment Deputy Director-General Hsieh Chien-chien (謝倩蒨) said that while employers can choose not to give workers’ salary for typhoon days on which they do not work, any additional docking of worker compensation would be a violation of the Labor Standards Act (勞基法) and employers could be fined between NT$20,000 and NT$300,000.

Taipei Department of Labor labor standards head Ye Chien-neng (葉建能) said that no fines were issued to city stores for violating labor standards during Soudelor.

While some store staff called the agency to ask about their rights, no official complaints were registered, he said.

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