A 17-year-old New Taipei City student who works part-time to support his studies was attacked earlier this month. The student was working alone in a convenience store at about 11pm when another 17-year-old attempted to rob the store. The student resisted valiantly, but the robber pulled out a knife and chopped off his hand.
Nighttime convenience store robberies happen quite often, but this one involved a minor who was minding the store alone. The store’s proprietor will find it hard to escape liability for breaking the law by not providing proper supervision. The incident also highlights a critical question: Should minors be working late in this kind of workplace?
The Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) does impose general restrictions on nighttime work for minors, but different age groups are subject to different rules. Articles 44 and 48 of the act state that children aged 15 to 16 are not permitted to work from 8pm to 6am.
Similarly, Article 24 of the Act of the Cooperative Education Implementation in Senior High Schools and the Protection of Student Participants’ Rights (高級中等學校建教合作實施及建教生權益保障法) states that students doing on-the-job training cannot work from 8pm to 6am.
Although there are clear rules on work conditions for child workers and cooperative education students, it has become increasingly common for teens between 16 and 18 years old to work part-time for medium to long periods. However, the law has not caught up with this trend and lacks safeguards for such working arrangements, creating a gray area and legal loopholes that employers can exploit.
According to a Ministry of Labor survey, the number of young people aged 15 to 24 doing part-time work has increased each year over the past six years, reaching about 175,000 in 2015.
What is more, a significant number of young part-time employees work in small businesses with fewer than five employees, which are not legally required to take out labor insurance. If these workers were to be involved in an incident, they might not be able to receive compensation. There is an urgent need for the law to be revised to safeguard the rights of underage workers.
The Taiwan Alliance for Advancement of Youth Rights and Welfare and other groups have proposed amending the law, taking into consideration the recommendations of the International Labor Organization (ILO) regarding restrictions on nighttime work by people aged between 16 and 18.
However, this suggestion immediately encountered opposition, with some saying it would deprive teenagers of the right to work and that it would push nighttime work underground.
Others say that most young people who work nights need to do so for economic reasons, and questioned what these young people would do if they are not allowed to work in the evening.
While it is true that most youngsters who need to work at night are from economically disadvantaged families, this makes them more vulnerable to being exploited. All the more reason, then, for the government to come up with policies that reduce the pressure on disadvantaged households.
The authorities should establish such policies and use them to safeguard young people’s right to work with dignity and protect them from occupational hazards. That would be much better than just focusing on the issue of job supply and demand.
In 1999, the ILO adopted the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention, which defines a “child” as anyone under the age of 18, and the associated ILO Recommendation No. 190, Worst Forms of Child Labor Recommendation, which suggests taking steps to protect young people under the age of 18 from having to work for long hours or during the night.
The EU also calls for prohibiting those under 18 from working between 10pm or 11pm and 6am or 7am the next day, and stipulates that underage employees must have adult supervision. The US, Japan and other countries in principle do not allow minors to work at night, with only a few exceptions that must be explicitly regulated by law.
To safeguard the rights and workplace safety of workers below the age of majority, newly appointed Minister of Labor Lin Mei-chu (林美珠) should seriously respond to the concluding observations and recommendations of last month’s international review of Taiwan’s implementation of international human rights covenants.
The authorities should work to institute the kinds of legal amendments that the reviewers recommend and inspect places where people work at night, to prevent minors from finding themselves in dangerous work situations, such as minding shops on their own.
The government should also investigate, plan and draw up a labor education law and amend the Regulations Governing the Implementation of Workers’ Education (勞工教育實施辦法), implementing the principle that employees aged under 18 and their employers should receive routine education and training on labor rights and occupational safety.
Measures such as these could prevent tragedies like the recent convenience store attack from happening again.
Yeh Ta-hua is secretary-general of the Taiwan Alliance for Advancement of Youth Rights and Welfare.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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