Closing the migrant labor loophole

By Steve Kuan 官文傑  / 

Tue, Jun 12, 2018 - Page 8

Taiwanese telecom equipment maker HTC’s Philippine workers on Sunday staged a protest at the Serve the People Association worker shelter in Taoyuan, as well as at other shelters that support foreign workers, against accommodation costs, demanding that factories provide room and board free of charge.

The situation was brought to the Ministry of Labor’s attention 10 years ago, but officials’ laziness and inaction have caused it to deteriorate and make it a target for migrant labor organizations.

Even more worrying is that this is not an isolated incident, but involves the employers of hundreds of thousands of Philippine workers and disputes amounting to tens of billions of New Taiwan dollars.

If the ministry does not realize the seriousness of the issue, it could develop into a labor conflict of international proportions.

The Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) clearly states that employers must pay the minimum wage, but it does not require them to provide room and board free of charge, including to Taiwanese workers. This is why the ministry several years ago decided that employers must provide room and board, and may not charge employees more than NT$5,000.

The Philippine government has targeted Taiwanese employers, forcing them to use standard contracts that include free room and board, as well as free two-way plane tickets.

Still, the ministry’s foreign workers’ affidavit allows employers to deduct NT$2,500 to NT$3,500 for room and board, which is the main cause of the dispute.

As for free two-way tickets for Philippine workers, the ministry’s rules clearly state that travel expenses should be determined through talks between employers and employees, but the Philippine government insists on including free two-way tickets in the standard contract.

This has been pointed out to the ministry on many occasions, but the officials in charge have not taken any action to this day and have let matters get worse. This has given migrant labor organizations an opportunity, and they could use it to reap huge benefits.

The issue is not difficult to solve. All the ministry needs to do is to formulate a standard contract that follows the labor act and the Employment Service Act (就業服務法), and inform the nations exporting labor to Taiwan of its implementation.

If a nation does not agree to the new contract, all labor imports from that nation should be put on hold. This would help put an end to protests by migrant workers and throw a spanner in the works of organizations using employer-employee disputes to their own benefit.

Many young Taiwanese are going abroad to work in other nations, but Taiwan has not demanded that employers there provide free two-way tickets to Taiwanese employees, nor have there been any reports of them providing free room and board or of brokerage fees being paid in installments.

Taiwan must guarantee the rights of migrant workers, but the rights of Taiwanese employers and employees must also be protected. The ministry must quickly make the necessary changes by replacing the officials who do not fulfill their duties, and seek assistance from academics and experts to put the migrant worker problem to rest and normalize Taiwan’s migrant worker policy.

Steve Kuan is a former chairman of the Taipei and New Taipei City Employment Service Institute Association.

Translated by Perry Svensson