Our response to the new Labor Standards Act 2017/06/28
TVBS screen shot of the March 3 press conference called by Wu Yuqin

Amendments to Taiwan's Labor Standards Act came into effect in January this year, with a period of grace until June. The changes provide a legal foundation for weekly days off and rest days, compulsory holidays, higher overtime payments, annual leave for recently employed staff, and restrictions on monthly overtime (which cannot exceed 46 hours) and daily working hours (which cannot exceed 12 hours in one day).

The amendments aim to provide better working conditions for millions of workers in Taiwan, which currently has the fourth longest working hours in the world – behind Singapore, Mexico and South Korea.

As an NGO founded on the principles of human rights and equality, the Garden of Hope wholeheartedly supports better conditions for workers in Taiwan, especially since many of the most vulnerable workers are women. However, after a press conference called by DDP legislator Wu Yuqin (吳玉琴) in March this year, at which concerns about how the new law could affect social welfare organizations were raised, the media reported that the Garden of Hope opposed changes to the Labor Standards Act, leading to a social media storm that we were using the cloak of our non-profit status to exploit our staff.

The following is our response to these accusations.

About our employees

The vast majority of Garden of Hope employees are on standard working hours, including administrative staff and social workers. However, our house-mothers (or “life-counselors” as they are called in Chinese) do stay in our shelters for 12-hour shifts so that we can offer consistent and quality services 24-7.

The value of our shelter services

The Garden of Hope started in 1988 with a shelter to rescue exploited girls who had been trafficked into the sex industry. Today we run 17 shelters, offering a variety of service for women and girls who have suffered domestic violence, sexual abuse, human trafficking and other problems. Last year we sheltered 1,006 women and children, including 253 girls under the age of 18. The average length of stay in a Garden of Hope shelter is six months. We also offer extended services to help women who no longer qualify for shelter support to move towards independent living.

Why shelters are different

The Garden of Hope fully complies with the new Labor Standards Act, cooperates with government inspections of our labor practices, and ensures our employees enjoy all the rights and privileges to which they are entitled.

However, we will also continue to advocate for further changes to the law to reflect the different needs of shelters.

The main aim of a shelter is to provide a stable environment for residents. This is especially true for shelters for girls under the age of 18, who are survivors of domestic abuse and family incest. These girls may be emotionally unstable, and have behavior, character and personality problems. Shelter staff must to establish a relationship of trust and familiarity with the girls, equivalent to a family bond. House-mothers work 12-hour shifts to provide this service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This system is also preferred by the house-mothers themselves, and has been approved by our staff-employer committee.

If our house-mothers follow the current recommendation of 8-10 hour working days, we would need to use a standard three-shift system. Frequent staff rotation will affect the quality of shelter care, and will also impact staff, who instead of being able to sleep and rest at the shelter would need to commute from their homes on a more frequent basis. (For security reasons most of our shelters are in remote locations.)

Finally, the changes will impact the Garden of Hope financially. Most of our shelters are funded by the government and run by Garden of Hope on a contractual basis. Yet government budgeting for shelter services has yet to catch up with changes to the labor law, so the Garden of Hope will have to pick up the burden of paying additional overtime costs to shelter staff.

To sum up...

The Garden of Hope will continue to respect changes to the current Labor Standards Act and fulfill our responsibilities to run shelters under government contracts. At the same time, we will also continue to lobby the government to provide adequate funding for shelter services, and advocate for more flexible labor regulations that will allow labor-intensive services to continue while protecting the rights of welfare staff.

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