October 2nd, 2012
04:45 PM GMT
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Editor's note: The Outlook series spotlights a country to give a deeper understanding of the business, industry and consumer trends that fuel its economy. While exploring the current challenges and opportunities facing a country's economic progress, Outlook also seeks to provide an insight into its future development.

(CNN) For the past six years, Guo Chi-mei has struggled to get out of bed on his own. The 40-year-old suffered a stroke in 2006 and can only take a few unaided steps to his wheelchair before his blood pressure rises to a dangerous level.

Last year the government ruled that the stroke was because of overwork but his company is legally challenging the decision.

“The last six months before my stroke, I was working 18 hours a day and sleeping just four,” says Guo. His company had claimed $50,000 was missing from the account he was handling, and allege stealing. Guo denies the accusation and before his stroke was working overtime to investigate the missing money.

“Just after 8am one day, I suddenly passed out. My colleagues carried me to a meeting room and left me there,” says Guo.

“The company waited three hours before they took me to the hospital, by the time I got there I had heavy bleeding on my brain and doctors said my condition had become so bad it was inoperable.”

Guo’s case is sadly not unique and some cases of overwork in Taiwan have even been fatal. In 2011, 50 workers’ deaths were blamed on excessive working hours, according to Taiwan’s Council of Labor Affairs (CLA).

Hard work has long been ingrained in Taiwanese society, but only recently have officials begun to acknowledge that overwork exists.

By law workers are not allowed to do more than 46 hours of overtime each month and companies are fined for violating these rules.

The annual working hours for Taiwanese employees eclipses many industrialized nations, according to figures from the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) and the OECD. On average, the Taiwanese work 2,200 hours annually; 20% more than their counterparts in the United States or Japan and more than 35% longer than those in Germany.

Earlier this year healthcare professionals took to the streets to protest what they call a sweatshop health system claiming overwork puts their patients in danger.

The government of Taiwan has reacted to a growing public outcry over the dangers of overwork and is trying to improve the work culture in the country, subsidizing health facilities specializing in occupational health.

Dr. Guo Yue-Leon holds a free open clinic every Wednesday morning in Taipei’s biggest public hospital specifically for occupational disease. He has noticed a marked increase in patients.

“Not because the number are increasing,” he says, “but the people are more recognizing the condition so those who have a heart attack or a stroke, he or she realizes that working too hard might have caused the problem.”

CNN’s Outlook series often carries sponsorship originating from the countries we feature. However CNN retains full editorial control over all of its reporting. Read more on CNN's sponsorship policy

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Filed under: Outlook Taiwan


soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Anon Review

    It is very true that work is extremely important to an individual, especially in the Asian countries. However, a proper amount of rest is also integral to maintain a productive and better life. It will be one of humanity's greatest achievement if one find temperance in this hectic life we all live in.

    October 3, 2012 at 4:02 am |
  2. MonkeyBusiness

    Welcome to investment banking... 100+hrs/week...

    October 3, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  3. TingTong Ling

    Me ruv u rong timey ..... No ovaltime for my ruving ....... And my stloke r berry berry good for u

    October 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  4. Pantheon Chung

    To be honest, the situation that labors are treated as slaves in Taiwan is not a news but has existed more than 10 years . The Technical and OEM / ODM industry treated labors as slaves since 2000 ,then it spread over the whole of the Taiwan's labor market. But why can't the labors change the unfair and fatal situation?I think that the real reason is labors without force in Taiwan is why the situation is irresistible.A normal Labor Market Model is consisted by labor , capital and govt. But the Labor Market Model in Taiwan has been distorted for very long time , the govt. has colluded with capital to control , oppress and exploit the labor who without any force to resist the power. The terrible situation is not only reflected in workweek but also in salary. This pathetic story has long been ingrained in Taiwan as CNN report. Hoping God can bless Taiwan's labor and forgive the demons who abuse the poor labor. (sigh...)

    October 10, 2012 at 4:17 am |
  5. elfguard

    Translate into Chinese

    過去六年來,郭奇美必須努力掙扎才有辦法自己起床。四十歲的他在2006年不幸中風,如果沒有外力協助,他只能從床上自行走幾步路坐上輪椅,不然他的血壓就會上升到危險的程度。

    去年政府判定他的中風是因為超時工作而造成的,不過他的公司質疑這項判決。

    郭奇美表示:『我中風前的最後六個月,我每天工作18個小時,而且只睡4個小時。』他的公司聲稱戶頭內消失了5萬元,並且指控是郭奇美偷走的,郭奇美否認這項指控,並且在他中風前努力的加班調查錢到底跑哪裡去了。

    郭奇美:『有一天剛過8點,我突然就昏倒了,公司的同事帶我去醫院,不過當我到達醫院的時候,醫生跟我說我的頭部大量出血,沒有辦法開刀治療。』

    令人難過得的是郭奇美的例子並不是台灣超時工作下的致命特例,根據台灣勞委會(Taiwan's Council of Labor Affairs)表示,在2011年就有50個人可以歸因於超時工作而死亡。

    努力工作的觀念早就深植於台灣社會當中,但是有關當局直到最近才開始警覺到這些超時工作的現象。

    根據法規勞工每個月不能加班超過46小時,如果有這類情事發生,公司會被處以罰款。

    根據台灣勞委會以及OECD(經濟合作暨發展組織)的報告,台灣勞工每年的工作時數讓其他的工業化國家相較起來黯然失色,平均台灣勞工一年工作2,200小時,比起美國或日本的勞工多了20%,比德國的勞工多了35%。

    今年初醫療專業人員也走上街頭,抗議健保系統讓整個醫療體系變成了血汗工廠,而他們的超時工作嚴重威脅了病人的健康。

    台灣政府回應了民眾對於危險超時工作的吶喊,試著國內的改善工作文化,輔助一些專門治療職業傷害的機構。

    郭育良教授每個星期三在台北最大的公立醫院開了一個免費的門診,專門治療職業傷害。他特別注意到了最近病患不斷地增加。

    郭育良表示『不是因為數量增加很多,而是因為民眾開始注意到那些有心臟病或是中風的人,很有可能是因為工作太努力而造成這些問題的。』

    October 10, 2012 at 4:37 am |
  6. TaiLabor

    It's funny that our society usually take foreign media's opinion as something, so good job CNN, we Taiwanese labors really need help

    October 10, 2012 at 6:41 am |
  7. Taiwan Labor

    Overwork has been the series problem for many years in Taiwan, and the government never cares it. They never want to improve the situation, and we believe the situation is going to deteriorate as time goes by.

    Thanks CNN reports truth and the report echoes all labors’ heart in Taiwan

    October 10, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  8. Taiwan Labor

    Overwork has been the series problem for many years in Taiwan, and the government never cares it. They never want to improve the situation, and we believe the situation is going to deteriorate as time goes by.

    I would like to say thank to CNN, you report truth and the report echoes all labors’ heart in Taiwan

    October 10, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  9. Gabriel

    To MoneyBusiness & others who may think this working condition is relatively comfortable comparing to some of industries, such as investment banking:

    For a position in investment banking, working 100+hrs weekly turns out a package of compensation, say, 100,000 USD dollars annually. But what's the situation in Taiwan?

    I know a guy used to work as junior security analyst. For weekdays he had to be there in the office no later than 6:00 am, preparing all the issues happens throughout global capital market.

    At 8:00 a.m., breakfast review, he was gonna report it.

    9:00 a.m., the time Taiwan Stock Exchange opens, he had to prepare for first company visit at 10:00 a.m. With lucky he may returns to the office just to catch the lunch time.

    After he finished his pathetic lunch he had to prepare for 2nd run, at 2:00 p.m. Normally this poor guy returns to the office at about 5:00 p.m. Well, now it's time to write analysis report!!

    As a junior analyst, he had to spend roughly 2 hours for a report. Since he was demanded to visit 2 companies a day, this hard-working guy finished his daily analysis report maybe at 9:00 p.m. or 9:30 p.m.

    So let's call it a day?? NOT GONNA HAPPENED!! U.S. stock market opens at 10:00 p.m.(GMT+8), he had to read all the macroeconomic data before then and tracked all the issues that influences the U.S. capital market for tomorrows breakfast review.

    In the end, he returns to his room at the time from 11:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.

    During the weekend, he can sleep for 8-10 hrs so that he won't die at heart attack or stroke or something. Then, he went back to the office for industry analysis, Saturday & Sunday.

    About his compensation, guess what? 22,000 TWD per month! Roughly 10,200 USD dollars annually.

    Who is this stupid slave? IT's ME. Thanks to financial crisis and Taiwan Govt.'s Nobel Prize policies, rewards of 100+hrs working weekly turns out to be less than 10,500 USD. Worst of all, this is not a special case to Taiwan labors. People are so exhausted and unable to fight back. TIA, This is Taiwan!

    October 10, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
  10. Alvin

    Sadly that's the truth. And behind every cell phone, every electronic appliances there are countless blood shed and exploited labor force. It's not going to change unless Taiwanese got the guts to stand out for themselves.
    A story strikes me about how irrelevant and careless Taiwanese are: it is easy to see your fellow coworkers back you up if you were fired or mistreated for no good reason in a foreign company; but it is a rarity in Taiwan. Taiwanese people would choose to be quiet and at the same time glad the same thing did not happen to them. Maybe it's in their blood.

    October 10, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  11. Former Taiwanese Worker

    I used to work in Taiwan, but now I'm off for a Master's in Germany. One could consider it as a 2 year vacation to recover from 14-hour workdays.
    For both of my former jobs never stated the amount of hours we had to work. They never mentioned what compensation we would receive for working overtime. To the employers, how long their employees worked was not a problem. However, when negotiating the contract, it was often stated that one must fulfill the "duties" and "responsibilities". If you're efficient, then you get to go home early, and if you're not, you have to stay a bit later. However, here's the catch-there is no limit to duties and responsibilities. Once you sign your contract for slavery, you get endless tasks that are all part of your responsibility. And never mind getting a decent salary or raise. Sometimes asking for respect isn't an option.
    But where would I choose to work after I finish my studies? Still Taiwan. Regardless of the pessimistic labor situation, there's still no place like home.

    October 11, 2012 at 1:51 am |
  12. Anonymous

    In my former company in Taiwan, the working hour is one of the performance indexes of KPI.

    That is so funny and unbelievable !!

    October 11, 2012 at 3:23 am |
  13. Matt

    if you're overwork for extra money, no one will say anything about it, but the true is "we" work for none, spending so many hours at OT with very low salary/unbelievable overloading , we deserve it or what!? and don't know why the Taiwanese ppl couldn't come out n fight for their right?????

    October 11, 2012 at 4:05 am |
  14. Anonymous

    This is very true. Furthermore Taiwanese who are "salary-based" have no right to claim OVERTIME.

    October 11, 2012 at 6:24 am |
  15. Expat in Taiwan

    I have worked for Taiwan owned companies and International companies in Taiwan both are the same. 14-18 hour days, excpet for upper management IE: Country GM. The global teams or US management just turn a blind eye just like the goverment.

    October 11, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  16. Haschel

    More outrageous thing is Taiwan government punishes jobless with amerce called " 國民年金 "

    October 11, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  17. Roger Schrumer

    Well, after living in Taiwan for over 5 years I can say that cultural factors are deeply related to this situation. I hope you Taiwanese labor force understand that trying to "NOT LOSE FACE" won't make you get fired, instead it is making more and more people get sick. These are some common questions surrounding my coworkers: What will my other coworkers think if i leave the office at 6pm? Should I buy expensive candies to my boss to compensate my behavior? I don't wanna be called free rider, BS!! health comes first! as much as the good benefits of working in Taiwan are,

    October 11, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  18. showme

    此項報導,不該引用郭先生的案例,郭先生所述並非事實,必須請CNN調查清楚,在做相關報導.

    October 12, 2012 at 6:06 am |
  19. sighz

    these comments make me greatly re-consider my motif to go work and contribute in taiwan. sighz...maybe better for me to develop elsewhere. wonder if i can get a salary-based job as a foreign expat...

    showme, shut the fap up. even if you say mr. guo's story isn't true, there are hundreds more stories just like mr. guo's! i have friends in taiwan who often share similar stories as mr. guo's or stories such as the people in the comments section. so, you're probably just someone in mr. guo's former company trying to cover-up what not.

    newayz, taiwan is overrun by corruption in the government. it seems te taiwanese laborers truly have no say nor any laborer rights and the government truly turns a blind eye to its own citizens. want to know why taiwan's birthrate is diminishing? this is probably one of the many factors!

    October 24, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  20. barry

    We need to work for our lives ,but we should never forget our health is more important than everything

    November 20, 2012 at 12:56 am |
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