Since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) first proposed her “new southbound policy,” commentators and academics have repeatedly said that efforts to build stronger relationships with Southeast Asian nations should not focus solely on economic development — a lopsided approach that had been going on for years.
As a demonstration regarding proposed amendments to the Employment Service Act (就業服務法) showed, Taiwan still has a long way to go before it can highlight a southbound policy that emphasizes thoughtful human interactions and cultural exchanges with Southeast Asian nations and their peoples.
Late last month, the Legislative Yuan’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee finalized its review of proposed amendments to the Employment Service Act. One amendment would eliminate a requirement for foreign blue-collar workers to leave the nation every three years; a stipulation that has previously allowed these workers to be exploited by labor agencies, both local and foreign, in the form of brokers’ fees.
The amendment has been criticized by labor agencies and employers’ groups, who on Tuesday organized a demonstration in front of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei.
On display at the demonstration were statements and interpretations of the amendment that were elusive and misleading at best, dishonest at worst. In addition, innuendos suggesting that foreign workers constitute a potential threat to employment and social stability were also expressed.
For example, demonstrators said that the amendment would grant foreign workers 35 days of paid leave — including 21 days to visit their families — every three years, in addition to seven days of annual paid leave, and burden employers with paying for the plane tickets of 600,000 workers, which would cost the employers at least NT$12 billion (US$370.3 million) every three years.
They also said that foreign workers would become immigrants if they were allowed to stay for 12 consecutive years and change their workplace “whenever they want,” adding that if the amendment was passed, foreigners would “snatch job opportunities from local workers,” squander social resources and compromise public order by going into shady businesses, such as prostitution.
All these, they shouted, would be the terrible result of eliminating the requirement that says migrant workers must leave Taiwan for at least one day every three years.
What made these demonstrators believe that the rhetoric they are using and the fear they are trying to whip up would be effective in galvanizing support, if not the long-standing negative stereotypes forced on people from Southeast Asian nations and the laughable belief in superiority?
The labor groups said that if the Tsai administration wants to promote itself as a government that would “light up Taiwan’s human rights,” it should start by stopping the exploitation of migrant workers, which has been happening since the government first allowed foreign blue-collar labor 24 years ago.
Abuses of migrant workers — be they domestic helpers, fishermen or factory employees — are frequently reported. It is time the government started educating all Taiwanese that human rights do not have national or racial boundaries.
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