Labor ministry planning to help workers affected by COVID-19 outbreak

CNA file photo

TAIPEI (CNA) — The Ministry of Labor (MOL) said Thursday that it is developing an employment assistance program for part-time workers, many of whom have been affected by the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus disease.

At a legislative hearing, (施貞仰), deputy director-general of the MOL’s Workforce Development Agency, said the program will match underemployed workers with part-time government jobs that involve no more than 72 hours of work per month.

The program will assist people earning less than the monthly minimum wage of NT$23,800 (US$790.53), many of whom are on flexible employment contracts and have been working fewer hours due to the impact of the coronavirus on the economy, Shih said.

She said the offer of up to 72 contract hours in the proposed program reflected the average number of hours part-time employees usually work, according to MOL statistics.

While no launch date has been set for the program, Shih said the agency plans to initially accept 2,000 applications.

Meanwhile, in terms of the coronavirus’ broader impact on Taiwan’s labor market, a recent poll by 104 job bank indicated that despite widespread concerns, the vast majority of Taiwanese remain on their regular work schedules.

The poll, conducted March 3-7 using a multiple selection format, found that 84.3 percent of company employees were on their regular schedules, while 5.6 percent had been encouraged to take paid leave, and 5.0 percent said their companies had vacancies.

Another 2.4 percent of employees said their companies had started to furlough workers, while 2.4 percent said some employees had been placed on part-time hours, and 2.3 percent said their companies were laying off workers, according to the poll.

On the question of worker sentiment, the poll found that 20 percent are fearful about contracting the COVID-19 virus at work, while 22 percent are worried about being sent on unpaid leave.

Another 16 percent said they were concerned about being laid off, and 14.8 percent were anxious about the possibility of having to take on additional work due to manpower shortage, according to the poll, which collected 1,081 responses and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.98 percentage points.

Despite these concerns, 104 job bank said, the labor market remained strong overall, with a record number of 659,000 job seekers and 34,000 employers using the company’s services as of the end of February.

According to 104 job bank vice president Chang Wen-hsiung (張文雄), the strong hiring activity shows that employers are focused on the long term and that the coronavirus has not had any significant effect on the custom in Taiwan of people seeking to change jobs after the Lunar New Year holiday.

Much of the hiring has been driven by the information technology, software and semiconductor industries, which have increased recruitment by around 5 percent over the same period of last year, he said.

Although the entertainment, transportation, hospitality, restaurant and service sectors have all been affected by the epidemic, others such as the high-tech, semiconductor and biomedicine industries still have strong economic prospects, Chang said.

Meanwhile, in cases where furloughs become necessary, employers are required to first obtain the agreement of their workers and guarantee them a monthly salary of at least NT$23,800 during the furlough period, he said.

Chang said furloughed workers are encouraged to use their downtime to take professional training courses, for which the government offers subsidies of up to NT$18,960 for a maximum of 120 course hours.

Other options include studying a second language or acquiring new professional skills, which can give workers an advantage when changing jobs or seeking a raise, he said.