CLA minister answers ‘no’ over plan to implement flexible working hours

By Lydia Lin, The China Post

The China Post–The minister of the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA, 勞委會), buttressed largely by legislators from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), yesterday rejected the idea of implementing flexible working hours as a means to combat the issue of unpaid leave. CLA Minister Jennifer Wang (王如玄) publicly opposed the suggestion of high-tech companies and previously, President Ma Ying-jeou, with a clear, “No.” The CLA minister fielded the question at the Social Welfare, Health and Environment Committee Legislative Yuan meeting yesterday. While Wang initially appeared to have little comment on the proposed solution, continued badgering by legislators forced her to openly admit her position. “Of course I oppose the idea,” she said, adding that her stance was “very firm.” Wang was not able to give a straight answer as to why she did not veto the idea from the start, hemming and hawing when legislators pressed for a reason. The idea came about last Wednesday, when President Ma Ying-jeou visited Hsinchu to meet with the heads of 17 high-tech companies. Discussing ways with which to combat the ongoing unpaid leave issue, the consortium proposed the implementation of flexible hours as a feasible solution.

Although the CLA had hinted that the proposal was inappropriate, the council did not outright reject it until yesterday. In the meeting with Ma last week, Sino-American Silicon Products Inc. (中美矽晶) Chairman Lu Ming-guang (盧明光) suggested that companies adopt the German method of combating economic slowdowns by allowing employees to work reduced hours and allotting extra work time in the future. Instead of calculating work hours bi-weekly, the tech company head proposed that Taiwan can count maximum work hours annually and work in accordance to peak and off-peak seasons.

Legislators, especially those of the opposition DPP, vehemently opposed the idea and pushed the CLA to veto the plan. Many used the meeting yesterday to confront Wang. DPP Lawmaker Huang Su-ying (黃淑英) spearheaded the discussion, arguing that flexible hours would not lessen the work load, but instead, negatively impact productivity and the quality of work. Bringing up the German model, Huang said the average number of annual work hours in Taiwan is 2,174 compared to Germany’s 1,419. Employers may believe that reformatting hours would benefit workers, yet “labor is not something that can be shored up and accumulated for later use.”

If such measures were implemented, worker fatigue would be at an all-time high and the overall quality of labor would suffer, the DPP lawmaker argued, asking Wang if she agreed.

At that, the CLA minister said the labor force would have to reach a consensus. “The stance of the Council of Labor Affairs is very clear; the measures implemented must support and be beneficial to workers.” Huang shot back at the diplomatic response, asking, “Are flexible hours beneficial to workers?” When Wang repeated a variation of her statement, KMT Legislator Hsu Shao-ping (徐少萍) said she foresaw many deaths from overwork if companies implemented flexible hours. In light of that, Hsu asked why the CLA will not “firmly oppose” the measure. Wang, bleary-eyed and visibly fatigued, finally admitted to the lawmakers present that the council was not in favor of flexible hours. After news reports detailed the ubiquitous practice of company-enforced unpaid leaves, Ma has openly pushed for a worker support system amid the global economic slowdown; with the government supporting the banks, banks should support companies, which in turn should support its employees.