The US Department of State on April 20 issued its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017. Every year, Taiwan is found to be particularly weak on two human rights issues, and somewhat weak on a few other.
In the 2016 report, domestic violence and the exploitation of foreign workers were the worst problems, while corruption and the exploitation of foreign workers top the 2017 report. The lack of protection for foreign workers has made the list for two consecutive years.
“Labor laws [in Taiwan] do not cover domestic workers, leaving them vulnerable to labor exploitation,” the latest report says, adding that forced labor often “occurred in such sectors as domestic services, fishing, farming, manufacturing and construction,” and “especially when serving as crew members on Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels.”
On the one hand, the government is promoting its New Southbound Policy, but on the other hand, it is ignoring the plight of Southeast Asian workers in Taiwan. It is counting on their labor, but despite emphasizing human rights, it is ignoring the human rights of migrant workers and new immigrants.
The current government is paying far less attention to these groups than the previous administration.
I have long served as a National Immigration Agency committee member, where I am tasked with supervising the government to ensure that foreign workers in the nation enjoy gender equality and that cultural diversity is fully respected.
Former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration established a Coordination Meeting on Immigration Affairs to coordinate affairs across governmental bodies. Of the 10 non-governmental members among the 29 committee members, I am the only academic.
In the past, the meeting was chaired by then-premier Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國), who placed great emphasis on the task and convened meetings four times a year to discuss concrete issues. As the meetings were hosted by the premier, the deputy convener would fully communicate with other members to ensure that the topics for discussion were well-prepared before the meetings.
At the meetings, government departments and agencies mainly sent their heads and deputy heads, and deputy local government heads serving on the committee appeared in person. As a result, decisions were made with great efficiency.
Since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) assumed office, the importance of the coordination meeting has been quietly played down. Instead of the premier, a minister without portfolio now convenes the meeting, and only two meetings have been held over the past two years.
Most departments and agencies now only send directors, and local governments are represented by city or county councilors, diminishing the significance of the meetings.
In terms of the agenda, there was only an administrative report regarding measures to empower new immigrants under the New Southbound Policy presented by the Ministry of the Interior in the first meeting.
Despite the government’s promotion of the New Southbound Policy, there has been no follow-up to that report.
One committee member suggested that a Council of New Immigrants be established under the Executive Yuan and be modeled on the Council of Indigenous Peoples, but the proposal was shelved without thorough discussion.
The population of new immigrants now exceeds the Aboriginal population, with the total close to 1 million if their children are included.
There are 600,000 foreign workers in Taiwan, performing jobs most Taiwanese are unwilling to do. They are our good friends and support the Taiwanese economy and Taiwanese families, yet they face difficulties in terms of living, working, family, education and religious belief. Not even their basic religious needs are met.
The worst human rights problem in the 2017 report — domestic violence — is also highly relevant to new immigrants. The proportion of new immigrant women who face domestic violence is strikingly high.
Last year, there were 1,540 cases of domestic violence involving spouses from China, Hong Kong and Macau, and another 1,652 cases involving spouses from other countries. The reported number of such cases is much higher than the number of marriages in each group. There is also a potentially large number of unreported cases due to the limited channels of help available to foreign spouses.
Other governments are well aware of the US’ Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The Taiwanese government is promoting the New Southbound Policy with great fanfare, but the question remains whether Southeast Asian governments will be happy to support and cooperate with Taiwan after they have seen this report.
Peng Huai-chen is the chairman of Family Wellness Association.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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