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Nurses demand abolition of overtime loophole

2012/04/27 19:32:26

Taipei, April 27 (CNA) A group of nurses protested outside the Council of Labor Affairs Friday against harsh working conditions, demanding the abolition of an article of the labor law that means medical staffers can be made to work long hours of overtime.

Wang Yun-hsu, a member of the preparatory group for the Taiwan Radical Nurses Union, urged the government to abolish Article 84-1 of the Labor Standards Act, which effectively makes long hours of overtime legal.

The article stipulates that should employers in certain job categories reach an agreement with their employees and report the case to supervisory agencies, they can be exempt from articles 30, 32, 36, 37 and 49 under the act.

These articles regulate the maximum number of working hours, the minimum number of weekly days off, and the maximum amount of overtime for employees. They also stipulate additional safety measures thatshould be provided to female workers during the 10 p.m.-6 a.m. period.

Wang also called on supervisory agencies to regulate a 48-hour interval between each shift rotation, as most local nurses have two to three types of work shift each week. He cited Article 34 of the act, which stipulates that work shifts should be rotated once per week and that employees be given adequate rest time.

The nurses complained that there are times when they need to work a late night shift one day and start a morning shift at 7 a.m. the following day.

The nurses said their long working hours have compromised their health, leading to a situation in which sick nurses are looking after ill patientsin hospitals.

As for a recently announced government subsidy of NT$2 billion (US$67.8 million) as an overtime fund and for more new hires, the nurses said that with current working conditions, they can only hope they will live long enough to spend the money they make from working overtime.

The nurses said they will join labor rights activists in a Labor Day anti-poverty demonstration May 1 in Taipei to demand that their working conditionsbe improved immediately.

In response, Chen Hui-min, an official of the labor council's Labor Conditions Department, said her department will work with the cabinet-level Department of Health and enhance workplace checks toprotect the rights of medical personnel.

She said the labor council last year reviewed Article 84-1, under which some employers practice the "system of job responsibility," and decided that most medical personnel should have been excluded from the system by March 30 this year.

Under the system, employees are assigned tasks to complete, no matter how long the work takes.

However, the exclusion does not cover medical staffers that work in emergency rooms, delivery rooms, operating rooms, post-anesthesia recovery rooms, burn units, intensive care units and organ transplant groups who will not be excluded from the system until 2014, Chen said.

To prevent the article from being abused in the medical industry, Chen said the labor council has also worked out a guide employers should follow. The guide stipulates that daily working hours should not exceed 10 hours, daily working hours plus overtime should not exceed 12 hours and there should be a 12-hour interval between shifts.

The guide also says working hours should not exceed 168 hours over four weeks or 240 hours per full month. It also requires at least one day off per week or two days off every fortnight for employees, she said.

(By Zoe Wei and Jamie Wang)