What you need to know
Protests against Taiwan's labor law amendments are wide off the mark — Taiwan needs to fundamentally rethink its calendar.
There aren’t even proper names for days of the week here; who would cry if we cut one off?
Recent Labor Standards Act (LSA) revisions have rendered Taiwan’s workweek all but irrelevant to shift workers, replaced with the potential for a convoluted fortnightly work cycle that has managed to anger just about everybody in the country.
But the seven-day week has no authentic connection to Taiwan. Seven-day weeks have been around since the Babylonians were a regional soft power, approximately corresponding to the lunar cycle. Originally used to organize market days and make babies, the lunar cycle is completely irrelevant to modern Taiwanese life, hidden under a thick matrix of skyscrapers and clouds and replaced by convenience stores and alarm clocks. What’s the phase of the moon right now? I don’t know either.
The two-day weekend began in the northeastern U.S. as a way to give Jewish and Christian laborers their respective holy weekdays off. Taiwan is under 5 percent Christian and has fewer than a thousand Jews, so these particular days off aren’t especially relevant. The weekend was lauded as an early victory of the labor movement, but has been gutted all around the world under the pressure of working vacations and “keeping up with the needs and demands of the present era, with diverse industry models and working conditions,” in the words of Taiwan Premier and LSA amendment exponent William Lai (賴清德).
Fair enough, let’s tear down Babylon’s timekeeping, but the country should move in the opposite direction — to a six-day week.
Four on, two off
Labor protesters are chipping at the edges of the LSA revisions, merely hoping to keep one weekly day of rest, but they should be aiming much, much higher.
Here’s my proposal: The 365-day year could be split into 10 months of 36 days each.
Each month would be split into six weeks of six days each.
The five or six remaining days per year would be a nationwide day off every two months.
For office workers, this change would amount to 7.7 percent more time off per year; a reduction from 260 days working days per year (without national holidays) to 240. If the eight-hour workday and ten national holidays are kept, this still leaves Taiwan with longer working hours per year than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average.
Taiwan already defies global convention with the Minguo calendar. If that system has held up for almost 106 years, why can’t a six-day week? There aren’t even proper names for days of the week here; who would cry if we cut one off? (In English, we should cut off Tuesday. Nobody remembers who Tyw is anyway.)
The last major campaign against the seven-day week was in the Soviet Union between 1918 and 1940, when they experimented with five-day and six-day weeks with one rest day, a concept that didn’t catch on because people like days off with their families.
If Joseph Stalin buckled to public pressure over unreasonable scheduling, does President Tsai really think she’ll pull off a similar trick?
Weekends off are a lost cause in a world of 24-hour convenience, but a six-day week with a four-day workweek would make scheduling a breeze — three employees can cover two shifts indefinitely. Scheduling is currently an incomprehensible mess for businesses that run irregular hours. With some tweaks to labor laws, [food conglomerate] Uni-President Enterprises and their ilk could get behind the change.
Another advantage: payday would fall on the same day of the week and the same day of the month.
If weekends are staggered, travel would be simplified, too. Taiwan's tourist traps are ghost towns on weekdays, but weekends and holidays get swarmed with visitors. Weekends that vary from one worker to the next would lessen this burden, ease start-up costs for tourist-driven businesses and give people more time off to spend their money.
Evening out traffic flow could help Taiwan’s rush hours, pollution patterns and reduce peaks in energy demand, a simple patch for Taiwan’s upcoming power crunch.
The big problem
Remember the spate of “why I’m leaving China” letters from a few years ago? Talent, local and foreign, is fleeing Taiwan just as fast, and they’re not even bothering to leave a note. And the reasons are blindingly obvious; jobs are scarce, uninspiring and the pay is a sad fraction of what can be found right around the corner.
For Taiwan to catch up in wages with its East Asian competitors seems far-fetched; wages would have to double, and quickly. China and some Southeast Asian nations have accomplished this in recent history, but this is largely due to them bringing a massive peasant class into the wage labor system. Taiwan has already succeeded in that area; farmers only comprise around 6 percent of the population.
If Taiwan is going to compete with the whims of an increasingly mobile global labor market, it will need to do so with some simple upgrades to quality of life, and skipping Tuesday would be a massive step forward. And wouldn’t it truly frustrate China to make Taiwan the worker’s paradise? The propaganda value is enormous.
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Editor: David Green