Tuesday, November 14, 2017

How the labor law changes screw workers

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Aboriginal performers at a resort

Kassy Cho on Twitter explains:
Currently, Taiwanese workers are entitled to 1 fixed day off and 1 flexible day off per week. If you work on your flexible day off, it’s considered overtime, and you should be paid in increments of 4 hours. i.e. 1–4 hours counts as 4 hours, 4-8 hours counts as 8 hours and so on

Employees are legally entitled to 7 holiday days a year in their first 2 years at the company, increasing to 10 days for their 3rd and 4th years, and 14 days after 5 years and so on, with a max of 30 holiday days after working at a company for 25 years

I should also preface this with: Taiwanese people are some of the most overworked people out there, with many getting off work any time from 10pm to past midnight and usually not paid for any overtime at all

Holidays are rare, and employers have the power to reject holiday requests and often do. I know because I have worked in Taiwan and experienced this myself. Anyway, here are the proposed reforms and what they mean:

Overtime pay will no longer be rounded up to four hour increments and employees will only receive pay for the exact number of hours they have worked.

Comp days are now valid for two years. Employees will no longer be able to take or get paid for any comp days they didn’t take at the end of the year but may have to wait another year before they can take the days or get paid for them

The minimum time employees have off between shifts will be shortened from 11 hours to 8 hours, meaning if you get off at 6pm, you could theoretically be called into work at 2am and have to go.

The maximum number of days employees can work in a row before a day off will be doubled from 6 days, meaning people could work 12 days straight before getting a day off.

The maximum hours a person can work a week will also be increased from 46 hours to 54 hours.

Also worth noting the fact that 7 public holidays were already cancelled with the launch of this act

All of this goes to say, employees are very concerned that these reforms could mean longer shifts and less rest in a culture that already promotes and actively encourages overwork
She ends by linking to this piece from The Reporter that explains everything (Chinese).

The massive piles of homework and the cram schools exist for a couple of reasons. One is politics: students can't develop interests outside school or engage in political activity if they are loaded down with homework and thirty hours of class each week.

But the other is to habituate students to their future work lives in which their time will be controlled by the one with authority over their lives -- first the school, then their boss. Taiwan culture powerfully instills the idea that hard work will pay off and authority should not be challenged. These values make Taiwanese ideal workers for a slave-driving employer class.

The real white privilege in Taiwan isn't the ability of white males to get attention from local women (wildly exaggerated) or easily getting jobs as cram school clowns/teachers. It is being exempt from this hellish system of time control.

The DPP has screwed labor again, after courting it before the election. Unfortunately there is no third party labor can turn to, the NPP being too small and the KMT being the party of big business. In 2018 I expect that many in the working class will sit home while others will switch parties to punish the DPP. It appears that the DPP idea of "social justice" is limited to those areas where social justice touches on KMT power.

Recall that the miracle economy was built on the premise of cheap, well-controlled labor. This enabled families to open factories. Workers would learn skills and go off to open factories on their own, supported by networks of similar factories operating in clusters: the famous "Shoes Nest" in Taichung, the bike industry cluster around Dajia, the mold and die cluster in Sanchong, the textile cluster near Yuanlin and Hemei in Changhua, the furniture cluster in Kaohsiung (see Hsieh's Boss Island for a description of how workers spun off bosses in the old system). That system was also premised on links to the US economy via exchange students, emigrants, and political exiles.

The US middle class has been destroyed, and the workers can no longer accumulate the social and financial capital to open their own tiny factories with so many firms moved to China, but the Taiwanese family run factory business lives on, a 1970s zombie in a 21st century world. The only way it can survive is by exploitation: exploiting workers by overworking and underpaying them, exploiting the environment by ignoring regulations, and exploiting females.

The move to China enabled Taiwanese family firms to continue to survive in the global market without investing in upgrading production technology and management. Now such firms are leaving China looking for marginalized labor forces elsewhere in places like Indonesia and Burma. But to remain "competitive" Taiwan firms are rolling back the pittance of labor rights in Taiwan. This will enable bosses to continue to exploit labor in lieu of investment in upgrading productivity.

Indeed, Premier William Lai's recent call for a $30,000 minimum salary was quickly "clarified" to include only large firms. It was just a nod of the head and polite meaningless words...

The productivity-wage gap in Taiwan is huge, and for bosses, seductive. Taiwan labor is among the cheapest in developing countries, relative to its productivity. Yet labor exploitation can only lead to the slow fossilization of Taiwan firm productivity and production techniques, leaving Taiwan further behind the global production curve, while talented and capable Taiwanese look elsewhere to sell their labor. "Reforms" like this hurt the island by feeding the brain drain while convincing small and medium sized firm owners that they can go on indefinitely substituting labor for capital in the productivity race...

Perhaps the bosses are hoping that they can exploit workers until robots become widely available, capable, and cheap, but I doubt they are that forward looking. Rather, this law is simply the visceral response to labor: exploit labor more, a subset of the Great Answer to all social "problems" in Taiwan society: more control.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Labor law can only do so much for the worker welfare. Globalization and automation have lower the value of many jobs. In order to create value, it is more important to figure out a way to train workers. Taiwan is facing a similar problem like the US:

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/11/why-the-us-fails-at-worker-training/545999/