CLA panned over unpaid leave


WORKERS RIGHTS: Legislators slammed the Council of Labor Affairs for allowing employers to get away with paying their employees less then the minimum wage

By Shelley Huang STAFF REPORTER Tuesday, Dec 16, 2008, Page 3

Lawmakers blasted the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) yesterday for allowing employees’ monthly salaries to dip below the minimum wage when firms force them to take staggered unpaid leave.

In the midst of the economic downturn, many businesses are finding different ways to cut costs, including forcing employees to take days of unpaid leave each month. The CLA said that employers cannot force their staff to take unpaid leave. However, if an employee agrees to periods of staggered unpaid leave, an employee’s monthly salary can be cut in proportion to the number of hours not worked, even if the salary dips below the minimum monthly wage of NT$17,280.

At the legislature’s Health, Environment and Labor Committee meeting yesterday, legislators across party lines criticized the CLA for not acting in the best interests of workers.

“Workers who want to keep their jobs are too afraid to oppose their employers when they are asked to take unpaid leave. If the government allows businesses to pay employees less than NT$17,280, it is allowing them to ignore the minimum wage requirement,” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator William Lai (賴清德) said.

Lai criticized the council for turning its back on workers and not gathering enough data on the labor market, such as how many employees are on unpaid leave.

“Pretty soon, workers are going to take to the streets in protest,” Chinese Nationalist Party Legislator Yang Li-huan (楊麗環) said. “Businesses are afraid of you [CLA], but workers are afraid of businesses. Many people are now only getting paid a few thousand [New Taiwan] dollars a month. How many families can live?”

Yang and several other legislators also accused the CLA of not making Taiwanese a higher priority than foreign workers. Yang proposed that at times of such high unemployment, businesses’ quotas for hiring foreign workers should be cut in half, except in the case of foreign caregivers, because their jobs are not easily filled by Taiwanese.

“Foreign workers don’t have to worry about unpaid leave, because they are protected by their contracts when they enter [Taiwan],” KMT Legislator Ho Tsai-feng (侯彩鳳) said. “Foreign workers are even allowed to work overtime.”

CLA minister Jennifer Wang (王如玄) replied by saying that the law provided equal protection for foreign and Taiwanese workers alike. She defended the council’s position by saying that the measure was first put into effect in 2001 by former minister Chen Chu (陳菊) of the DPP.

When asked whether the council had plans to cut the numbers of foreign workers, Wang said that the council had prepared plans for when the unemployment rate reached certain levels, but declined to elaborate when asked by reporters.