Government denies claims of labor law relaxation

By Christine Chou, The China Post

The government on Tuesday denied claims from the head of a business group that it planned to extend the maximum limit for overtime work. President of the Manufactures United General Association of Industrial Park (MUGA, 工業區) Qin Jia-hong (秦嘉鴻) told local media Tuesday that President Tsai Ing-wen and Premier Lin Chuan (林全) “had personally assured him” of a future increase from 46 to 52 hours per month. But Cabinet spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) said Tuesday that the government had “no such plans,” adding the government would “not make any U-turns.” Hsu said a flexible working hour policy applied to some occupations, such as department store staff during anniversary sale season who may work up to a consecutive 10 or 12 days. But he stressed that such staff “must take their entitled days off.” Qin claimed that Tsai and Lin had told him of the plans at a meeting at the Presidential Office.

The MUGA president had been invited, along with other corporate leaders, to discuss what impact a recent amendment to the Labor Act has had on businesses.

In response to MUGA’s suggestions the government raise the overtime work limit or allow employers and workers to negotiate among themselves how they would like to calculate overtime work, Minister of Labor Kuo Fang-yu (郭芳煜) said employers and workers had differing views on both subject, and so the government had “not yet been able to handle this problem.” Kuo said the Labor Ministry plans to first collect a wide range of opinions at this stage as a means of achieving a consensus. “Then we will approach this issue.”

The six-day work week policy, also known as “one flexible day off, one fixed day off (一例一休),” officially came into force on Dec. 23. The policy entitles employees up to triple their regular pay if they choose to work on a “flexible” day off. Businesses have threatened to pass on the costs associated with the new policy to consumers, with a spate of retailers announcing price hikes. Others have said they will cut back on business hours. Meanwhile, the Executive Yuan spokesman said that the government will ask owners of businesses that increases prices in the wake of the enactment of the new labor law to explain their decisions in person.

The Executive Yuan had requested several businesses, including local chain restaurants, to send representatives to clarify their rationale for price hikes but later allowed them to statement their reasons by written reports instead after criticisms that the requirement amounts to harassment. The Executive Yuan will prevent businesses from using the new labor law as an excuse for changing their price tags, the spokesman said. If business owners fail to explain themselves in written reports they can still be required to appear in person.