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Calls grow for end to migrant worker abuses in Taiwan

About 80 percent of foreigners are migrant workers and are often exploited under the labor broker system

 Workers are seen at a construction site in Taiwan in this file image. Rights group allege migrant workers are exploited by the existing labor broker system in the country.

Workers are seen at a construction site in Taiwan in this file image. Rights group allege migrant workers are exploited by the existing labor broker system in the country. (Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Taiwan)

Published: October 31, 2023 06:02 AM GMT

Updated: October 31, 2023 07:09 AM GMT

A Catholic diocese has banded together with labor groups in Taiwan to call for changes to the country’s labor broker system that allegedly exploits migrant workers, says a report.

The Migrant Worker Service Center of Hsinchu diocese joined the Migrants Empowerment Network at the main railway station in the national capital Taipei on Oct. 29 urging the government to make reforms, Focus Taiwan reported.

Dozens of migrant workers and Catholic activists joined the protest wearing Halloween costumes and called for an end to abuses under the pretext of the law.

Gracie Liu, a member of the Hsinchu diocesan migrant worker service alleged that the current labor system introduced in 1992 has been abused by brokers to extort money from workers.

“Brokers have abused the system since then, including by illegally charging them [migrant workers] fees of NT$20,000 to $90,000 (US$618 to $2,780) to change jobs once their first three-year contracts run out,” Liu said.

During the rally, the protesters chanted the slogan "no treat, only trick," while depicting the brokers as blood-sucking figures.

Reportedly, migrant workers are forced to pay around 80,000 to 200,000 Taiwanese dollars to an employment broker in their home country even before they reach Taiwan, Focus Taiwan reported.

The groups have also alleged that the workers must pay service fees of up to 60,000 Taiwanese dollars over the course of a three-year contract even if no actual services are provided.

According to the labor regulations in Taiwan, the monthly service fees charged for the first, second, and third year of the three-year contract are 1,800, 1,700, and 1,500 Taiwanese dollars respectively.

The workers can opt to change their jobs after the three-year contract ends, however, failure to pay the fees results in the brokers stopping them from finding better jobs, Liu said.

“Failure to pay means not getting jobs because the brokers will freeze them out of new opportunities,” Liu added.

Migrant laborers working in the fishing industry, as domestic helpers, and caregivers, and in designated industries carrying out major construction projects or working to meet economic and social development needs, must pay service fees to brokers to help them find jobs.

Ineffective employment service centers

Liu pointed out that the government-run Employment Service Stations were ineffective in helping migrant workers to change their current jobs or find new work.

“They are not helpful and can even hurt the workers' chances of changing jobs,” Liu said.

The migrant workers are randomly selected to take part in interviews with employers on Thursdays at the Employment Service Stations.

However, the sessions turn out to be with people who only check for available jobs on their computers and speak only basic English, rendering the sessions and the service ineffective.

Liu pointed out that the migrants who decide to skip the interviews due to their ineffectiveness are met with legal issues.

“Even worse, if the migrants who are asked to appear do not, they are considered to have given up their opportunity to change jobs and can be deported,” Liu said.

Paul Su, an official at the Workforce Development Agency under Taiwan’s Ministry of Labor said that the agency would impose hefty fines on brokers who overcharge migrant workers.

“Brokers found to have illegally charged migrant workers excessive fees will face a fine 10 to 20 times the illegal charge,” Su said.

Su also pointed out that the government has engaged more translators at the Employment Service Stations to help workers.

“Translators of four languages are working at the employment service offices in Changhua and Taichung to help migrants find jobs with employers,” Su said.

Earlier, labor groups alleged that the lack of foreign language help at government-run service centers had resulted in migrant workers paying brokers illegally inflated fees of 20,000 to 90,000 Taiwanse dollars for job-matching services.

“Taiwan is also negotiating with several countries, including Indonesia, on expanding the direct-hire program's scope to first-time workers,” Su said.

Labor reforms needed to attract migrant workers

Taiwan has around 700,000 migrant laborers making up about 80 percent of the 960,000 foreign residents in the nation, according a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released this year.

The majority of the workers are from Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand.

Domestic workers, who live in the same household as the employers, are estimated to be 220,000. They are not protected by the Labor Standards Act, which deprives them of a minimum monthly wage and time off stipulated in the law.

“Domestic workers — who are almost always women — are particularly vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse, with several cases documented by the media,” the report said.

A third of the live-in workers have reported that they have not received any time off work in the years before the pandemic.

Despite the alleged rights violation of workers, Taiwan has set a goal to bring in 400,000 workers by 2030 to make up for a declining domestic labor force, the CSIS report said

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