Thu, May 01, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Foreign laborers are scapegoated

By Ku Yu-ling 顧玉玲

With Taiwan anticipating change with the presidency of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), foreign laborers wishing to switch employers because of factory closures, sexual harassment or abuse can wait no longer. The rash decision by the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) to deregulate the “3D” industries — dirty, difficult and dangerous — has meant that many foreign laborers have chosen to run away and become illegal fugitives after waiting in vain for new employers.

In the past, foreign labor quotas were governed by strict capital and occupational restrictions. Small and medium-sized enterprises wanting to employ foreign labor needed to go through certain procedures, and then apply to local employment service stations to hire foreign laborers who were awaiting re-employment. When a factory closed, releasing a large number of foreign laborers, companies would fight for every worker.

However, last October the council deregulated the “3D” and the “three shift” industries, where factories run around the clock, so that these two sectors may now apply to bring in new foreign workers to make up 20 percent, 18 percent or 15 percent of their workforce, depending on their level of demand. Once that door opened, labor brokerages — in their own self-interest — began to discourage employers from hiring foreign laborers awaiting re-employment.

For example, on April 9 there were 754 foreign laborers awaiting re-employment, yet there were only 95 openings. The rate of successful matches is less than 10 percent. Foreign laborers who do not get new jobs can only return home in debt or run away. Legal foreign laborers end up being persecuted unlawfully and find themselves unemployed, in debt and in dire straits.

Council Chairman Lu Tien-lin (盧天麟) had served before as chairman of the Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions.

After less than one year on the job, Lu made the unprecedented move to deregulate the basic wage of 150,000 foreign domestic workers on July 1 last year, raising the amount that could be deducted for room and board from factory and construction worker paychecks to NT$50,000, causing the incomes of these foreign workers to drop drastically.

Last October, Lu deregulated foreign labor quotas for the “3D” and the three shift industries. By March, just five months later, 13,582 more foreign laborers had been brought into the country, while companies showed no interest in hiring those awaiting re-employment.

Even employment service center officials say no companies have registered to re-employ foreign laborers for a long time.

Foreign workers have been forced to leave the country midway through their contracts.

They are already at an absolute disadvantage in disputes with their employers and now been left without bargaining chips, even if they are forced to work overtime before work-related injuries have properly healed, sent to work in restaurants or supermarkets without pay, or work 16 hours a day without overtime compensation.

Despite such serious legal violations, foreign laborers fear that they have little chance to be re-employed and therefore become resigned and endure indignities without protest.

The more foreign laborers are exploited, the fewer opportunities there are for Taiwanese workers. The only party to benefit is immoral employers.

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