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Ruling DPP pushes through controversial labor law revisions

By Stephanie Chao, the Eye on Taiwan staff reporter

Employees in Taiwan can be made to work 12 days in a row and work shift with only eight hours of rest in between, according to a new amendment to the Labor Standards Act.

They can also be made to work overtime for up to 54 hours per month, compared with the current 46 hours, according to the changes made after an 18-hour marathon voting session dominated by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party on Wednesday,

Opposition legislators, including those from the Kuomintang and the New Power Party, had strongly opposed the revisions which they said were worse than the current rules that the DPP passed in late 2016 to implement a five-day work week with one mandatory holiday and another flexible day off.

Labor groups had staged numerous protests, some violent, against the revisions orchestrated by the DPP, saying instead of increasing workers’ benefits, the changes would only put employees in an even more unfavorable condition.

Existing rules prohibit employees from working more than six days in a row and require a rest of at least 11 hours between shift.

Though the DPP said under the new amendment, employers must get approval from relevant government agencies if they want to ask their employees to work 12 days in a row and work shift with eight hours of rest in between, labor groups have argued that the requirement to get approval will be ineffective, given that it will be difficult to enforce.

Labor groups have also argued that the new amendment could allow employers to skip paying employees overtime as it allows compensation leave to be used as remuneration for overtime work.

Instead of getting pay for unused annual leave, employees will be asked to have their unused annual leave in one year carried over to the next year, according to the changes.

The new amendment also allows employers to pay according to the exact number of hours their employees have done for overtime. Under current rules, employees 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.

Meanwhile, Premier William Lai said the amendment will provide flexibility and allow more collaboration between workers and employers, rather than “having either side only taking and receiving.”

Taiwan is an export-oriented economy, he said, adding workers and employers must work together to create a win-win future.

The amendment will allow a “flexible cooperative space” for workers and employers to boost economic development, under the condition of prioritizing workers’ rights, Lai said.

Opinion polls were conducted before the legislature launched the revision process and therefore fully reflected what the electorate desires, Lai said. The Executive Yuan or Cabinet would also review the opinions from different parties and labor rights groups after the implementation of the amendment, which will take effect on March 1, he noted.

On the opposition side

Since Monday, labor unions and activists protested outside the perimeters of the Legislative Yuan, blocked by hurdles of police and barriers. Scuffles broke out between the protesters and police.

The activists claimed the latest revisions would only exacerbate the already unfavorable working conditions for the working class.

Outside the Presidential Office, New Power Party lawmakers staged a hunger-strike in protest of the contentious amendment since last week. Their fasting lasted until Monday. They later continued their protest through a walkout during the voting session.

Throughout the entire voting session that lasted from Tuesday night to Wednesday morning, KMT legislators tried in vain to use the filibuster to stall the voting. After the revisions were passed, KMT lawmakers stood outside the main legislature chamber, chanting “the death of labor rights, the disgrace of democracy.”

KMT Legislator Alicia Wang accused the ruling party of allowing lawmakers to pass a law that would make 9 million labor workers in Taiwan suffering from stressful and inadequate working conditions.

“Today marks the death of labor rights,” she said, accusing the government of sponsoring a law that saw conditions for working schedules fall back 100 years.

KMT lawmaker Chiang Wan-an condemned the DPP for betraying the workers who once vowed to protect.  The DPP had long known for its championing for labor rights. In her presidential campaign in 2016,  Tsai Ing-wen had also adopted a labor-rights platform.

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