Labor Code Infraction Report Misses the Big Picture

Eye On Taiwan
Date: May 28, 2016
By: David Wang

According to an online report by Lin Li-yu for of Taiwan dated May 26, 2016, the Taipei City Labor Bureau publicized the latest blacklist naming 252 businesses that contravene the labor codes, with the bureau commenting such number to be quite high, and that Hwa-deh Securities tops the list of the most serious offenders with 6 infractions.

The most common offense is, as expected, not paying overtime. Another being not keeping time records, in other words employees do not clock in or out to make tracking work hours and paying wages accordingly impossible. While the third infraction involves not allowing one day-off every 7 work day.

While workers in Taipei from humble backgrounds and saddled with supporting family as is expected traditionally may find such contraventions unacceptable to also bite into one’s pocketbook to make living in Taipei, where per-unit-area price of property in some areas equal or exceed those in western cities with double or higher hourly wages, ever more tiring and challenging, those who look at the Big Picture in Taiwan can’t help to wrinkle one’s brows to question the basics most rational, well-educated people (excluding many Taiwanese regardless of educational credentials, physical age and even professional track-record who try to pretend as such by donning fancy suit and tie, memorizing and reciting as necessary lofty hypocrisies, platitudes and clichés) taken for granted “needed” to set up one’s own business.

In more explicit terms, the said reasonable individuals would assume that SME (small and medium sized enterprise) owners in Taiwan are fully experienced, qualified, far-sighted, well-rounded and balanced, ethical people with mindset fully geared for the 21st century and motivated to create jobs, make the world a better place and even set enviable examples for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Those who believe such to be true for 90 percent of Taiwanese SME operators likely also believe in Santa, while the ones who believe it true for 5 percent of the same deserve a pat on the back for being realistic.

Before delving into a few first-hand experiences to substantiate my case, one should rewind the TV news video showing the female Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker with the non-descript degree from the West hailing from Pingtung, southern Taiwan who infamously showed the Taiwanese public the fine art of the frontal kick that would even humble the Karate Kid (or even Bruce Lee?) as she tried to bust open a door to likely a rival’s office.

Or perhaps show the news video of a recently (unsurprisingly gleeful) appointed Taiwanese official who had the decency and candor to yelp that he has no prior, related experience to his new post.

It’d be interesting and eye-opening actually to collect the stats on the percentage of high-ranking public officials in Taiwan with directly related, proven experience to their new appointments.

But such endeavor would not be kosher in Taiwan where saving face and being politically-correct is as vital to burning carcinogenic incense (as reported on TV in Taipei) in temples of worship where deities supposedly enhance well-being of patrons.

And being “qualified” for any task in Taiwan is but another nominal and perfunctory hurdle to clear.

Could this be the reason that the ground-level light-duty MRT in Taichung, central Taiwan has gone bankrupt within a year of start-up?

Or the Taipei Dome that is supposed to bestow upon the city a world-class baseball stadium currently not scoring a near homerun but virtually a strike out, with both teams having long walked off the field.

But surely SME operators in Taiwan are “fully-qualified” to show staffers the ropes right?

Not this Taiwanese couple in their late 30s who ran a small exporter in Taipei decades ago. They offered me a post to explore the emerging snowboard market stateside. The man was the quintessential example of someone who married for convenience (aka sperm donor for hire) to a wealthy Taiwanese woman also the financier of the business. I could not see the marks left by the tight collar attached to the short leash around his neck during the interview, but did not hesitate to ask why he would not take on the task himself as would often be done in the sector. Inexplicably they confessed to being card-carrying Americans who could not (or would not) speak English so needed someone for the job. That was only part of the rationale, for he then revealed his bigotry in not being able to stand the sight of long-haired youths who would be potential clients in the snowboard business, people with whom ho he’d have to associate and, heaven forbid, and even socialize.

What would the likes of Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg make of this Taiwanese “entrepreneur” who took himself so seriously in his fancy suit?

One can’t help to wonder if this man’s lack of English qualification creeps into his other areas of “expertise?”

Or maybe his bigotry and presumptuous status also prevented him from studying subjects as material science (very useful to anyone aiming to play a part in the snowboard business) or analysis of advanced polymers in a polytech as such school simply does not impart the high-brow cachet of “university,” not to mention he’d have to dirty his manicured fingers occasionally in lab work. Such trivial concerns aside, he’d actually have to learn English, the language of many textbooks on advanced sciences.

Could a bigoted Taiwanese entrepreneur whose only “qualification” to be in his shoes being lucky to marry a golden meal ticket be counted on to abide by generally accepted global corporate practices let alone Taiwanese labor codes?

Another rarely admitted truism in the Taiwanese SME sector is that many small-time business proprietors are simply unemployable, without significant job skills nor sufficient intelligence to be forced to set up shop.

Could such entrepreneurs be relied upon to adhere to labor codes when they likely can barely comprehend most laws?

Another Taiwanese entrepreneur in his late 30s set up a tiny pet-grooming accessories business years ago to fit the stereotype of egoistic bosses. Unlike a savvy businessman who would be frugal, he drove a 3-series BMW to show off his fledgling enterprise that was about as solid as a butterfly in a stiff breeze. His bookkeeper-cum-right-hand was also his girlfriend, a mere employee until one office party that gave him the pathetic opportunity to over-imbibe and bed her. Just what every winning entrepreneur would do to promote a female staffer to girlfriend. He gives new meaning to “taking care” of one’s employees.

Would this type of Taiwanese boss even look at labor codes?

Fitting in perfectly the antiquated business model in Taiwanese SMEs that are often family-run (aka patriarchal), this 40-plus Taiwanese man sat at the lap of his aging father as an obedient golden retriever, working for decades without formal title nor compensation agreement (aka he worked for basic wages without a dime in profit-sharing despite doing all the work to be forever enslaved without prospect for independence) in a small exporter of skateboards during the heyday of the sector. Both the father and son were English illiterate and about as business savvy as Nokia who believed they’d dominate the mobile phone sector forever.

The patriarch lived in the 18th century and the son, living up to the sheepish model so revered and approved in Taiwanese society, was deprived of choice to ever strike out on his own or even hold his head up as a supposedly fully-grown man.

Labor codes? The only business and labor law the father understands is “Not only shall my son work for me unconditionally, but what’s mine is forever mine and so is his.”

Intriguingly Lin’s report does not delve into other labor laws that are less abused in Taiwan. Could it be that there is a warm-and-fuzzy side to labor laws on the island? One that actually allows employers to condone flagrant infractions.

For example a so-called seasoned Taiwanese “reporter” incredibly confessed on a TV talk show that he was mostly fabricating “news” as he went, with up to some 80 percent of what he said being based on hearsay, urban legends and speculation. One wonders if there is a labor code covering such practice, one that says “Taiwanese TV channels shall be allowed to turn a blind eye to broadcasting soapy content as “news” by paying self-professed reporters to commit dereliction of duty.”

And many English “news” reports published in Taiwan show bylines when actually they’ve been translated from a Chinese report that has often been rewritten from another Chinese source. According to at least two Financial Times columnists, such practice is plain plagiarism.

How shall the labor code read?

News media in Taiwan shall allow, without legal liability nor ethical consequences, writers to presumptuously use bylines to stroke their own egos as they pretend to be reporters to translate news of questionable currency, factual content to be published as reliable news.”

And what about a code to regulate unethical behavior among employees?

The Labor Bureau of Taipei as well as the legislature has their work cut out. But they need to first find a certain MD in a major hospital in Taipei for consultation before drafting the codes, for this “highly-educated, supposedly mature” man who has taken the Hippocratic Oath can shed light on deterrent measures, but that’s if he can spare a precious moment while he scopes out another nurse for his toy, after driving one to quit to avoid harassment after rebuffing his proposal to be his mistress.

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