TAIPEI, Taiwan — An American woman who used a mocking video to quit her job at an animated graphics company here has virally showcased Taiwan’s demanding work conditions, which sometimes mean taking a cot to the office and have even led to death from fatigue.
The video posted Monday by Next Media Animation content editor Marina Shifrin shows the writer and comedian dancing through her Taipei office at 4:30 a.m. to lyrics to the Kayne West song “Gone.” As she makes her way toward a dark doorway, presumably for the last time, video subtitles say that for two years she has sacrificed time, energy and relationships to work.
Shifrin’s video, which has generated well over 100,000 YouTube views, spotlights the long or late hours expected of Taiwan’s workers, often to the surprise of foreigners.
“There’s a phenomenon of staying late because of competitive pressure to get a high performance review or a promotion opportunity,” says Terence Liu, general manager with the employment agency Manpower in Taipei. “That pressure is really huge.”
Taiwan’s labor department says 111 people died from overwork between 2010 and June 30 of this year, citing fatigue as a common precursor.
More often, workers just gripe that they must stay at the office past 7 p.m., or at least until bosses leave, to avoid being seen as slackers. Supervisors also may assign complex tasks late in the afternoon and call mid-evening meetings.
In Taiwan’s prized high-tech sector, research and development teams sometimes work day and night as deadlines approach. Bigger tech firms provide showers but do not always offer legally required compensation, labor activists say.
“A team might have three months to get a new project out, so they will bring a sleeping bag or even set up a bed,” says Sunny Han, 51, a former tech firm marketing director who left when he began to fear that the late nights would make him a stranger to his son.
A similar overtime ethic pervades white-collar workplaces in Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.
Taiwanese employers also may see workers as faithful family members, making it hard for the workers to ask for comp time or overtime pay.
Shifrin complained in her farewell video that Next Media Animation, a Taipei-based animator known internationally for racy video spoofs of world news events, cared more about numbers of views than content quality. Shifrin could not be reached for comment, but her blog indicates she worked overnight shifts of eight to 10 hours and would reach the office already tired.
Taiwanese labor activists also have staged protests over fatigue and illness, while government labor officials pledge more oversight. Han now helps run a tech hardware firm that requires employees to leave by 5:30 p.m.
“Lately workers have been bolder about getting their due,” says Liu at Manpower.
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