The Labor Standards Act has been in a state of flux since early 2017, and it seems that the drama is not over yet. The latest round of amendments have been hit with a simmering backlash, the New Power Party and Social Democratic Party are trying to build support for a referendum on the changes, and the Presidential Office Human Rights Consultative Committee has called for an investigation into human rights violations caused by the law, which was sold as a way to increase flexibility for businesses and employees.

Just because a law is in place doesn’t mean that businesses are following them. One newly-created database highlights 29,360 violations between August 2011 and December 2017, most of which occurred after 2014 when the Occupational Safety and Health Act was enacted. That act mandated more widespread government inspections of workplaces, leading to a precipitous rise in recorded violations.

Many provisions of the occupational safety law only came into effect in 2015, contributing to an even larger rise.

Labor law violations per year

Union leader Chen Hsin-hsing (陳信行) of the Taiwan Higher Education Union told The News Lens by email, "I don't think the increase in complaints is a result of better enforcement. There are only some 270 labor inspectors in the country enforcing the labor standard law among more than 630,000 businesses where the law should apply. Some 600 additional labor inspectors are dedicated to enforcing the health and safety regulations. Though the DPP had pledged to increase the number of inspectors, it has not happened yet. With such a drastic disparity between the number of labor inspectors and the workplaces they are supposed to cover, chances that a law-breaking employer is caught is much lower than the chance a drunk driver is caught by the police."

Of the reports, 78 percent violated the Labor Standards Act, 21 percent violated the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and 0.75 percent violated the Gender Equality Act. Unsurprisingly, New Taipei City, Taiwan's most populous administrative area, saw the most violations, followed by Taipei City.

Employers want overtime but they don’t want to pay

Most commonly violated labor laws

Overtime pay is the biggest point of contention and the issue of overtime hours comes in a distant second. Employers are also not supposed to make their employees work more than 12 hours per day and overtime is not supposed to exceed 46 hours per month, but this is the second-most common reason for employees to turn to the government for help.

"Yi Li Yi Xiu" (一例一休)refers to the one fixed, one flexible rest day given to workers. Workers can be compelled to work on their flexible rest day, but must be payed overtime rates. This provision has been eliminated under the recently passed revisions to the Labor Standards Act, which will come into force March 1.

Exhausted construction

Of the companies listed in the Ministry of Labor database, real estate and construction company Farglory Group was the largest source of complaints. Sixty percent of complaints against the company are related to Article 6 of the Occupational Safety and Health Law, which stipulates that employers should take measures to protect workers from harm from machinery or equipment. Farglory is a sprawling company and is responsible for several major projects such as the Neihu Technology Park, Farglory Ocean Park and the Taipei Dome.

Reiju Construction, which builds offices, schools and other buildings all over Taiwan, came in second place and NewAsia Construction came in third, both for similar safety concerns.

Supermarket chain PX Mart, state-owned petroleum company CPC Corporation, Hong Kong-headquartered warehousing and logistics company Kerry Logistics and bus company Kuo-Kuang Motor Transport were also major violators of labor laws.

An unabridged Chinese-language version of this article can be found here.

Editor: Morley J Weston