Not long ago, migrant workers’ rights groups launched a street protest against poor working conditions, demanding that government include foreign domestic caregivers in Taiwan’s public long-term care (LTC) system.
Ever since the nation opened up to foreign domestic caregivers in 1992, foreign workers caring for elderly people have worked in private households under unfavorable conditions.
“Many of them are required to work long hours without holidays and their freedom is restricted. Taiwan’s minimum monthly wage does not apply to them, so they are the lowest-paid workers in the market. At the moment, the minimum monthly wage for a Taiwanese worker is NT$19,047 [US$636], but that of a foreign caregiver is only NT$15,840,” the group said.
About 700,000 families across the nation are in need of long-term care services. In about 65 percent of these households (455,000) family members provide the required care, while 28 percent (about 200,000) of the families employ foreign domestic caregivers, and about 4 percent (approximately 28,000) rely on institutional care. The remaining 3 percent rely on government long-term care services.
As a result, groups are demanding that both family caregivers — relatives — and foreign domestic workers be incorporated into the long-term care system, which is currently being re-examined to better protect their rights through legislation.
Foreign domestic workers are not only excluded from Taiwan’s draft Long-term Care Services Act (長期照護服務法), but also from the systems of other countries that have launched long-term care insurance, such as Germany, Japan and South Korea. Of these three, Japan allows Philippine and Indonesian workers to acquire Japanese citizenship after passing a long-term caregiver test.
The German insurance program provides either services or cash, allowing the insured to choose between the two options. Families that choose to take the cash can then employ illegal foreign workers.
The qualifications for South Korea’s insurance are strict and the application process is complex. Those who are not eligible for the insurance, or those unwilling to go through the process, simply turn to the informal market to hire Korean-Chinese with work visas allowing them to work with South Korean families. Since Korean-Chinese speak Korean, they are the only foreign workers allowed to serve as domestic caregivers in South Korea.
Germany and South Korea distinguish between foreign and local workers and have created a set of dual labor regulations that mean foreign workers face poor working conditions. Their pay is lower, and they are susceptible to exploitation. Many Germans prefer hiring them to relying on services provided by the long-term care insurance system. Of all Germans who do not stay in a long-term care institution, 80 percent choose to take the cash payment while only 20 percent choose the public homecare services. The demand for public long-term care services is low -— as is the supply.
It has been difficult to improve the working conditions for workers in the unpopular long-term care services through economies of scale, and the number of part-time and non-professional workers has increased in the German long-term care system, making it an undesirable occupation. Since German workers are unwilling to do this job, Germany is forced to rely on foreign workers.
Due to the serious shortage of manpower, Germany has started to negotiate with China this year to import Chinese caregivers. This brings into question the lesson Taiwan should take home when making its long-term care policy.
Wang Pin is an assistant professor of social work at National Taipei University.
Translated by Eddy Chang