Thu, Aug 02, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Letter: `Standard contract' a sham

The Council of Labor Affairs contradicted itself when it announced it would draft a new standard contract for migrant workers, only to then say that workers can negotiate for their board, lodging fees and even the cost of their airfare.

The council is not proposing a standard contract at all because the contract can be superseded by another agreement between employers and foreign workers that amounts to contract substitution.

The council also justifies other unjust and even illegal acts -- no days off for those working in homes; the imposition of forced savings; penalties for breach of contract; and the confiscation of passports and Alien Residence Certificates (ARC), to name but a few -- by claiming that both parties can renegotiate for better terms, or by accepting agreements provided by employers and brokers without any questions asked.

How can migrant workers renegotiate for better terms when they have little or no bargaining power? Contracts are supposed to be negotiated even if workers have not yet set foot in Taiwan or if they are required to be on probation for the first 40 days of work.

In addition, migrants cannot form their own unions and can only join existing ones. They also cannot become officers of a union. They therefore have no collective rights and can only bargain individually. Furthermore, migrants can work legally in Taiwan for a maximum of nine years -- entirely at the employer's discretion -- thus leaving workers at their mercy.

Another contradiction is the addition of a clause that states market forces should be used in charting the level of meal, lodging and plane ticket fees and that neither the Taiwanese government nor its counterparts in foreign-labor-exporting countries need bother with such issues. If that were true, why did the Taiwanese government impose a board and lodging fee on migrant workers ranging from NT$2,500 to NT$4,000 per month in 2002 and increase the maximum amount to NT$5,000 this July?

Even the governments of countries like the Philippines are not exempted from this council's impositions. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration allows an addendum in the original employment contract, which it authenticates. This pertains to amending two articles in the contract that require board and lodging fees and airfare to and from Taiwan be shouldered by the employer.

The board and lodging fee is essentially a wage cut, as it is deducted from the minimum wage. And it is consistent with Article 22 of the Labor Standards Law, as it does not serve the needs of the worker and his family members. Other cuts include management expenses in the guise of service fees; payment for an ARC; medical check-ups; and airfare to and from Taiwan. In essence, migrant workers subsidize their employers.

We therefore propose that a genuine standard employment contract should include the following:

* Guaranteed days off every week and during statutory holidays for caretakers and domestic workers.

* No deductions in the minimum wage disguised as "bonuses" for perfect attendance, good performance and the like, and no deductions for board and lodging for factory and construction workers.

* No deductions in the guise of "savings," no confiscation of passports and ARCs by employers or brokers, as well as the voiding of side agreements for migrants.

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