March 17, 2009

Unpaid leave article in LA Times not cynical enough

I came across this article about unpaid leave in Taiwan via Michael Turton's blog. I wrote about this subject last month. The article does a good job of describing how unpaid leave is used instead of layoffs in Taiwan, and I recommend reading the article, but there is one point that I have a quibble with:

So fearful are some workers that they're going into the offices on their stay-at-home days to impress bosses in the hope of keeping their names off any existing or future layoff list.

The statement implies that this is a spontaneous act on the part of the employees. In reality, I think the motivation for employees working on their days off comes from management exerting pressure. If management hadn't already floated the idea of employees working on their days off, I think very few employees would spontaneously decide to come to work on those days. I mentioned this in the last post, but I will add a bit of explanation.

One method of coercion is for the managers to state that your workload is unchanged, so you can take the day off if you want, but you had better get the same amount of work done. And you are not allowed to apply for overtime pay on the days that you do work. And one more thing, if you do happen to take the day off and still get all your work done, then that shows that your work efficiency during normal times must be low if you can accomplish the same amount of work and still take time off. You might think I added this catch-22 line for comedic effect, but it is what I have personally heard.

A greater degree of coercion is when managers unambiguously state that you should come to work on your days off, and if you don't come, this will be considered when deciding on layoffs.

Like I said in the last post, this is not the kind of thing that is put in writing. That may be why the LA Times will not make this claim.

By the way, I'm not writing this out of bitterness. Personally, I love the unpaid leave and I was disappointed to find that my days of unpaid leave had been cut back. In fact, my secret wish would be that an extended recession period in which employees are forced to take one or two days of leave each week would lead to a change in culture in which part-time careers are possible.

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  • Good points. Fake unpaid leave angers me; if they want to adjust their cost of labor, cut wages and see if people will put up with it and not leave for better jobs. Not these underhanded ways.

    "In fact, my secret wish would be that an extended recession period in which employees are forced to take one or two days of leave each week would lead to a change in culture in which part-time careers are possible."

    I doubt it, just because if there's anything good coming out of these unpaid leaves (that don't seem like they would be legal in a US situation), is that it leads to a more flexible labor force. Many companies are now recalling their workers from unpaid leave, and it's looking like it was a good idea to hold off on firing anyone.

    The US model appears to be to layoff lots of people as quickly as possible and hope you don't need to fire again. When you need more people, go out and rehire them. The laid-off workers can simply find similar jobs or retrain and find new ones.

    While in an ideal economy, this kind of model could make sense, there is a problem of people getting through the months they've been out of work, the eventual leaving of the work force if you're out of work for too long, and the high amount of friction in all this shuffling around--you already have the job so you're qualified, but the US model often leads to hiring of completely new people and former employees.

    That said, the problem with unpaid leave is the indefinite amount of time, and if Taiwanese companies weren't getting these new orders, then it would look pretty stupid.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 21, 2009 1:37 PM  

  • Thanks for the comment. Those are good points, I just have one thing to add. A manager told me what he thought is the main reason they don't do this in the US. He said that managers are afraid that if you force unpaid leave, the best workers will find new jobs. I guess Taiwanese workers are more loyal or more conservative, so they won't change jobs as quickly. Also, the job market is smaller. I think that is an important consideration in normal times, but I doubt that it is a big concern in the current economic situation.

    By Blogger Taiwanonymous, at March 22, 2009 7:54 PM  

  • very interesting blog from a unique perspective. But i dont agree on the "loyality" part you mentined on your reply, they dont change their jobs simply because they are out of options...... there is not an powerful labour union to protect the workers' rights, probably becasue they education system has made the workers more docile in some way.

    By Anonymous john, at May 01, 2009 9:57 AM  

  • Agreed with John in his post above. It is also the typical Taiwanese mentality to accept the abuse rather than be without a job. Families also play a big part.

    By Anonymous Eddie, at December 22, 2009 5:18 PM  

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