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Controversial amendment to labor law passes the Legislature

2018/01/10 14:39:30

CNA file photo

Taipei, Jan. 10 (CNA) The Legislative Yuan on Wednesday passed a controversial amendment to existing labor laws to make work rules more flexible in response to demands made repeatedly by employers over the past year.

In a last ditch effort to thwart the amendment, labor groups and trade unions had staged a protest outside the Legislature since Monday, but the barricades erected around the complex and tight security measures prevented them from disrupting legislative proceedings.

Under the new amendment to Taiwan's Labor Standards Act, employees can be asked to work 12 days in a row and work shift with only eight hours of rest in between, but enterprises must get approval for that from related government agencies and from their employees.

That compares with existing rules that prohibit employees from working more than six days in a row and require a rest of at least 11 hours between shifts.

Labor groups have argued that the requirement to get approval will be ineffective because it will be hard to enforce.

The amendment also allows up to 54 hours of overtime per month, from the current 46 hours, but caps it at 138 hours over a three-month period.

Another major change states that compensation on a "flexible" rest day -- defined as a day off on which employees can opt to work if employers ask them to -- will be calculated based on the actual amount of time worked, not a range.

Under current rules, workers who do less than four hours of work on a "flexible" day off are paid for four hours, while those who work between four to eight hours are paid for eight hours and those who work between eight to 12 hours are paid for 12 hours.

The new amendment also stipulates that compensatory leave can be used as remuneration for overtime work instead of getting extra overtime pay.

Another provision will allow unused annual leave accrued in one year to be carried over to the next year, in contrast to the current system under which employees must use their annual leave within a designated one-year time frame or be compensated for unused days.

The existing work rules that were amended Tuesday took effect on Jan. 1, 2017 after being passed by lawmakers in late 2016 to implement the five-day work week that was enacted under the previous Kuomintang (KMT) government in May 2015.

Those measures were also mired in controversy for months after the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office in May 2016 before being passed in December by the same legislators who passed Tuesday's amendment.

The Tsai administration touted the original plan as an "interim" system on the way to implementing a five-day work week with two mandatory days off.

Under its transitional plan, work was allowed on one "flexible" day off per week (instead of being a mandatory day off), but the high cost of overtime was expected to discourage employers from having employees work on those days, the government argued.

Business leaders and foreign investors' chambers of commerce later voiced dissatisfaction with those measures, however, and demanded that the problem of the lack of flexibility in working hour rules be addressed.

When former Premier Lin Chuan (林全) was in office, he refused to make changes to the original rules, except to allow workers in certain sectors to work more than six days in a row without a break, such as transportation workers meeting public needs during holidays.

But since replacing Lin on Sept. 8, 2017, Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德) has sought to address the flexibility issue, and he proposed the latest amendment in November, triggering a series of protests by labor groups and young people.

Lai has insisted that the proposal benefits not only employers but also employees, because employees need more hours to work to make ends meet.

The process to review the amendment on the floor began at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.

New Power Party Chairperson Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) and the party's four other lawmakers absented themselves from the review after their proposals were rejected by the DPP.

They apologized to the public for failing to stop the "draconian" amendment.

KMT lawmakers submitted more than 200 motions as counter-proposals to the amendment and tried to obstruct the proceedings with filibustering tactics, but to no avail as the DPP holds the majority of seats.

The review process, including debate and the vote, took 18 hours.

The newly amended law will take effect on March 1.

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan)