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May 29, 2017

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Travel agency head issues partial apology

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The founder of a travel agency involved in a fatal freeway bus crash that killed 33 people on Monday apologized to the victims' families Friday, but the deceased driver's daughter accused him of lying about her father's work hours.

Chou Bi-chang, founder of Iris Travel Service Co., apologized to the victims' family members at a press conference, saying he would not shirk any responsibility for Monday's deadly accident, in which a tour bus careened off an exit ramp on National Freeway No. 3 in Taipei, killing 31 members of a tour group, the driver and the tour guide.

He claimed that the driver, Kang Yu-hsun, had not been overworked, and that many of his employees had jumped on the opportunity to work over the Lunar New Year holiday period because of the double pay they had been offered.

"People die for money, birds die for food," Chou said, citing a Chinese proverb, to support his claims that his employees had been willing to work during the period.

But the remark immediately drew rebuke from the deceased tour guide Hsiao Ju-chin's widow, who was also at the press conference. She said the company owed her an apology.

The driver's daughter claimed that Kang had worked 18 days straight and often started the day at 5 a.m. and returned home at 11 p.m., fueling suspicion that the accident resulted from fatigued driving.

Kang's sister, who was also present during the press conference, accused the company of not allowing her brother to take days off and of failing to give him coverage in the mandatory labor and health insurance programs.

Chou denied the accusations. He showed a sheet of paper that he claimed was Kang's roster. He said the roster showed that Kang had taken leave on Jan. 14, 15, 23, 26 and also on Feb. 10, two days before the crash occurred.

Chou also said that company drivers' labor and health insurance was covered by their trade union, and that the company's fault lay in not confirming that the employees had joined the insurance scheme.

The accident was the deadliest crash involving a tour bus on a freeway in Taiwan. The investigators had yet to determine the cause of the crash, but one of focal points of the investigation is whether the driver had been overworked.

The transport and labor authorities have presented different arguments over Kang's work hours. The transport ministry has argued that it was not breaking the law if drivers' on-call time was not counted as working hours, but the labor ministry has stressed that drivers' on-call time was considered working hours under the Labor Standards Law.

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