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September, 27, 2016

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'Victory' on public holidays fails to address labor issue

The Legislative Yuan reopened this week, with labor issues returning to the forefront of public discourse.

While it seems increasingly likely that the five remaining statutory holidays canceled by the government will take effect this year after all, this victory does not address the core issue of labor rights parity. That point was well argued by ruling party Legislator Lin Shu-fen during her heated interpellation exchange with Premier Lin Chuan on Tuesday.

The legislator correctly stated that statutory holidays were not the heart of the matter. Lin said the central issue was instead the large number of hours that the average worker spends in the workplace — a figure that places Taiwan at the top among developed countries.

Government figures indicate that Taiwan's workforce averages 2,135 hours at work annually, a figure significantly higher than that of OECD countries. Even Japan, well known for having a culture of overwork that would shame the Protestant work ethic, averages close to 400 fewer hours in the workplace compared to Taiwan.

Rather than creating mechanisms that enforce the 40-hour workweek, proposed overtime rules ("one flexible day off") actually incentivize workers to waive their right to an off-day despite higher remuneration. Coupled with the glacial speed of moves to implement a living wage, such "flexible arrangements" and catchphrases like "labor-industry compromise" do little for labor and much more for big business.

On top of this, Taiwan's government continues to ignore a "one country, two systems" problem in its workforce, whereby public sector employees are afforded unrestricted paid leave, a total of 28 sick days (with full remuneration) and clear guidelines for whether one works in the event of inclement weather such as typhoons. If an official work closure is announced, public sector employees are still paid.

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