by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Solomon203/WikiCommons/CC
AFTER A BUS accident which claimed the lives of thirty-three on February 13th, discussion in Taiwan should turn towards how bus drivers and other transportation workers in Taiwan are among the most overworked people in the nation, despite the crucial nature of their jobs in the functioning of everyday life in society. And so, the bus accident in many ways returns to unresolved labor issues in Taiwan.
Although labor regulations stipulate that bus drivers should not work more than ten hours per day, have thirty minute breaks after four hours of continuous driving, and have at least ten hours of rest between working days, such rules are sometimes violated by bus companies. In the case of the bus driver who died on February 13th, he was later found to have been working 16 hour days and to have been working for 18 days consecutively.
Indeed, the existing laws are not enough to begin with and already contain a number of loopholes which allow for further work to be forced out of drivers at the cost of public safety. For example, if drivers are made to drive six hours consecutively, their rest time merely increases to forty-five minutes. Likewise, as Directorate-General of Highways Director-General Chen Yen-po stated, tour bus drivers’ work hours are counted by the number of hours their hands are on the wheel. Even then, low penalties and the inability of bus drivers to stand up to companies that break labor regulations contributes to a culture of disregarding labor regulations.
As has been pointed out in much commentary already, the bus accident earlier this month comes in the wake of a similar tour bus fire in July of last year which claimed 26 lives. The July 2016 bus fire was later found to be a deliberate act of murder-suicide, when it was discovered that the driver had stockpiled gasoline in the bus in a premeditated act aimed at taking his own life and the lives of his passengers. Nevertheless, the discovery that the bus driver had been working long hours with little pay, facts which likely contributed to his decision to take his own life, did not prompt a larger conversation in view of the incident as an outcome of overworked bus drivers in Taiwan.
In overview of labor demonstrations in Taiwan in the last year, there have been a number of demonstrations in the transportation industry, including the historic China Airlines demonstration in June 2016, demonstrations by Taiwan Railways workers who have been forced to work more longer despite recent labor reforms which should ostensibly provide them with set days off per week, and other protests. These demonstrations attest to the fact that transportation industry workers in Taiwan have poor working conditions, despite the crucial nature of their jobs.
Bus drivers, for example, literally hold the lives of their passengers in their hands as part of their jobs. Yet bus companies seem bent on extracting the maximum amount of work from bus drivers for a minimal amount of pay. Again, as with Taiwan Railways workers, in many cases, the labor initiatives of the Tsai administration have only led bus companies and other transportation industry companies to try and force greater amounts of labor from their workers. In some cases, rather than hire new workers to fill the gaps in work scheduling that were caused by changes to labor regulations as part of the Tsai administration’s labor reforms, companies have sought to merely make their existing workers work longer hours, for the same mediocre amount of pay.
How will this change? After the failure of its labor policy to date, one generally does not have faith in the Tsai administration to carry out the wide-sweeping reforms needed to change work culture in Taiwan. But public incidents as the bus accident which took place last week are an unfortunate reminder of the very human costs of extractive labor policy and it remains to raise awareness of the poor work conditions faced by Taiwanese transportation workers.