Migrant workers from the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia on Sunday staged separate protests in Taipei to call for the labor broker system to be abolished and replaced by a compulsory government-to-government hiring system.
The workers have for years been demaning this and although direct hiring programs exist, job vacancies are often controlled by placement agencies and brokers, which employers prefer to use for their convenience. Brokers help employers handle all the paperwork, screen the workers and handle any issues that arise while a worker is in Taiwan.
The broker system continues to cause problems, from workers being made to pay illegal, exorbitant fees and the confiscation of their documents to the condonation of other abuses and exploitation that have given Taiwan a bad reputation internationally. Workers say that the brokers provide no information about what work they will be doing and there are many cases of them being forced to do jobs completely different from what they signed up for.
Of course, employers are also at fault for the mistreatment of migrant workers, but removing the broker system would make it much easier to regulate what is going on. The brokers do this for a living, and unscrupulous ones know how to exploit loopholes in laws and get around government regulations. For example, even though it is illegal to charge workers to extend their contract, the protesters said that they are still being charged between NT$35,000 and NT$80,000 to do so.
There is a reason that a Vietnamese worker representative called them “highly trained exploitation organizations,” and while there are certainly good brokers, it seems that the problem is out of control.
That protests over the same issues continue even after amendments to the laws were supposed to eliminate these problems shows that the broker system needs to be abolished.
This problem has gone beyond the labor market — there have over the past few years been a number of high-profile cases of students from Southeast Asia and South Asia being tricked by brokers into forced labor under abusive conditions. It is simply embarrassing for Taiwan, which otherwise is seen as a beacon for freedom and human rights in Asia.
However, the Ministry of Labor’s response that the “free market plays a role” and that “employers have a say over how they hire” shows that the government still does not plan to do anything, and that the broker system is likely here to stay. It is a shame that officials seem to only care about the employers’ legal right to choose how they hire people, while the migrant workers’ human rights are being trampled on.
The insincerity of the government is evident in setting up direct-hire programs that nobody will use, as the ministry itself acknowledged on Sunday. All these programs do is provide pools of people to hire, while the company has to do all the legwork and deal with any issues that arise afterward. Of course they would not use it if brokers were around.
What is even the point of such a program? The government needs to take this issue seriously and find real, viable solutions.
Labor groups are only becoming more vocal and more people around the world will turn their attention to the problem. Overall, the government has done well in handling human rights issues, but this will remain a blight until it is fixed.
China took advantage of the vacuum left behind when US carriers stayed out of the western Pacific Ocean due to COVID-19 outbreaks on several US Navy warships. The Chinese government is solidifying its hold on artificial islands in the South China Sea by moving in missiles and surveillance equipment, and formalizing its occupation by creating two municipal districts in the region under Hainan Island’s Sansha — Xisha District on Woody Island (Yongxing Island, 永興島) to administer the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) and Nansha District on Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑島) to administer the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) —
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