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Amendments to the "Labor Safety and Health Act"

On 3 April, the ECCT's Human Resources committee hosted a special lunch to update members on proposed amendments to the "Labor Safety and Health Act" and how companies should prepare for new rules on occupational safety, disease & protection of female workers. Seraphim Mar, Principal & Senior Partner at Baker & McKenzie Taipei gave a summary of the main changes to the act. The new draft bill is now in the second reading phase in the legislature and could be approved at any time. Changes will have a significant impact on all employers in Taiwan.

On an annual basis, more than a million people die on the job and a further 160 million are injured in work-related incidents. There have been a number of serious work-related incidents in Taiwan including seven workers being poisoned by gas, two workers dying in a chemical accident and another in which three workers were electrocuted. These and other incidents have prompted authorities to draft stricter laws. Many aspects of the new Labor Safety and Health Act have been borrowed from similar laws in Europe, the US and Australia but many provisions are even stricter.

The new act will apply to all industries and companies as opposed to only 65% before and will cover all workers, including journalists and insurance agents who work mostly outside the office. The current act only covers some workplaces but the new act will be extended to all the places where "employees conduct work", inside or outside the normal workplace as long as employers can take reasonable and enforceable safety and health measures.

Employers need to take a number of actions to comply with the law and protect themselves. For example, in cases where employees visit dangerous places such as construction sites or factories, employers will need to ensure that their employees are provided with safety clothing and equipment. Employers should also issue advice and offer training to employees to avoid accidents while at work. They should also have standard operating procedures (SOPs) in writing and employees should be required to sign documents to verify that they understand the procedures and will abide by them. If employees violate rules, employers should issue warnings and keep documentation to prove it.

The current act covers injuries due to hazards or machines in the work place. The new act covers work-related disease or violence and includes occupational disease as one of the safety and health measures required to be taken by employers in addition to injuries caused by hazards or machines/equipment in the work place.

Under the new act, employers much control the amount of repetitive work that employees engage in to avoid damage to workers' bones and muscles. This means that employers have to prevent employees from doing too much repetitive work, such as typing. Employers should also control the amount of rotational work, night shifts or long working hours to avoid workers' diseases or illness. In addition, employers will need to control "physically or mentally illegal damage" to workers while performing duties. For example if a hotel guest assaults or sexually harasses a hotel employee, employers may have to compensate employees.

Under the new law, damages could be much larger than they currently are. Employees should also be careful of even larger damages later on. For example, if a local employee succeeds in winning a case in Taiwan, they could potentially use that as a basis for a much larger claim against the local company's parent company overseas. Employers will also need to "provide shelter, emergency aid, rest or other protection measures for workers". For example, companies should prepare SOPs for what to do in the event of an earthquake, conduct training for dealing with emergencies and document these actions.

Liabilities for failure to comply with the new measures include administrative fines of up to NT$300,000 and even prison sentences for up to three years in the most serious cases where employees die as a result of an occupational accident. If a work-related disease occurs, companies will be fined. Should employers fail to take corrective action after being found guilty of a first offense, subsequent fines may be issued. Employers should also take action to avoid employees from working overtime because they can be charged for this. In addition, companies with 30 or more employees need to have employer-labour management meetings.

Regarding the management of machines, equipment and chemicals from the sources thereof and the establishment of a registration system, the current user's obligation is to use the machines and tools in accordance with the central authority's standards. Under the new act, it is also the obligation of the manufacturers/importers/suppliers of machines, equipment and tools to meet the central authority's standards and suppliers have to provide evidence that they meet government standards.

There are now also stricter rules to protect female workers. Another new provision of the act requires companies with more than 50 employees to hire medical employees such as a nurse to take care of staff health. Failure to comply will result in a fine of NT$30,000-150,000. Another new provision in the act allows for publication of names of violators, including the company's name and the representative's names.