The Ministry of the Interior last year proposed increasing highway police officers’ special allowance — currently NT$8,435 — by 60 percent in the form of extra hazard pay of NT$5,061 per month.
The proposal got stuck at the Directorate-General of Personnel Administration, which revealed its bureaucratic attitude when it turned down the plan for fear that criminally minded police officers might seek even higher allowances.
Following several official document exchanges, and after government officials and legislators joined police officers on the highway to experience the highly dangerous situation firsthand, the Cabinet finally compromised by granting an extra NT$2,952 — a 35 percent increase — as part of highway police officers’ monthly hazard pay.
Following the peak highway traffic period during the Lunar New Year holiday, the major parties are to hold preliminary elections to choose their presidential candidates, who would require highway escorts when they travel.
Also, as the number of former presidents and vice presidents increases, highway police officers have had to undertake special duties more frequently.
One special highway guard service mobilization requires at least six police vehicles and at least a dozen police officers.
This requires a large number of personnel, and the highway police brigade in northern Taiwan in particular offers dozens of highway escorts in a single day.
Sometimes, people receiving police protection are too grateful to turn it down, and then they do not follow the original timetable and often change their itinerary at the last minute.
When patrol cars arrive at their position, they often have to wait for these people at highway interchanges or at passing bays on the highway for an hour or two.
If that is not the case, they often have to rush to get to their position and forgo their regular duties.
If a traffic accident occurs when highway police officers are performing escort services, they will not be able to deal with the accident and people will have to wait at the site of the accident, which unnecessarily increases the danger.
The highway police is a specialist police unit. Most of the time, only trainees who have performed outstandingly are assigned to the unit, but it still frequently has to deal with extreme personnel conditions.
Although highway police officers receive overtime pay, the maximum is NT$17,000 and 100 hours per month. There are beginners in every profession and the highway police are no exception.
The hourly wage for inexperienced junior officers is low, which makes it almost impossible for their overtime pay to reach the maximum.
Senior officers fare no better: They often work overtime and exceed the maximum number of paid hours. This is tantamount to working with no pay.
While the Cabinet increased highway officers’ monthly hazard allowance by NT$2,952, that amounts to nearly NT$24,000 less per year than the ministry’s original proposal.
Over the past decade, the on-duty casualty rate for highway police was 0.526 percent, twice as high as that for police officers — 0.225 percent — in the six special municipalities.
Many outstanding police officers have lost their lives in the line of duty, but still highway police only received half of the proposed allowance increase. The Cabinet’s decision was a huge blow to the subsidy’s intended effect of boosting morale.
Victor Lu is a former legislative assistant.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming.
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