Sun, Sep 26, 2004 - Page 18 News List

Migrants face down finance proposal

The Council of Labor Affairs is trying to keep alive a cash-management system opponents see as fundamentally flawed

By Max Woodworth  /  STAFF REPORTER

Lisa Meir, shown with her back to the camera talking with other Filipina workers at a garbage collection site. Thursday, wants the government to trash its plans for a finance-management system for foreign laborers.

PHOTO: MAX WOODWORTH, TAIPEI TIMES

Under a steady rain Thursday night, about a dozen Filipina maids converged on a Taipei street corner near Da'an Forest Park to throw out the day's trash and exchange quick hellos before ducking back to their employers' homes. While they waited for the truck's jingle to signal its arrival, they talked about daily matters and the nasty weather.

But when asked about a Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) proposal to manage migrant laborers' finances, most said they had never heard of the plan. Except for Lisa Mier, a domestic helper from Manila who is nearing the end of the maximum six-year employment period and who knows of the plan through friends who gather Sundays at Taipei Railway Station.

"They want to control our money. It's just not right," she said, displaying the vehemence that the CLA fears may have already left its initiative, titled the Foreign Laborers' Cash Flow Management System (外勞錢流管理系通), stillborn.

The proposal currently under review would put into law a required amount of savings per month for the first year of employment that each employee would have deposited into designated banks and which cannot be withdrawn until termination of the employee's contract. As part of the proposed regulations, the savings account would also be used to cover costs incurred due to illness or injury and repatriation costs in the event of death. These costs are currently shouldered entirely by employers under model contracts for foreign laborers.

Chen I-min (陳益民), deputy director general of the CLA's Bureau of Employment and Vocational Training, said laborers should pay these costs just as normal citizens do and described the proposed account as a "safety deposit." What the new system would aim to achieve, he said, is to ensure that laborers are paid their full salaries on time, thereby reducing the number of arguments over pay and to improve monitoring of the laborers and cash flows.

"We've come to this with the best of intentions, but it's run into unexpected opposition from various sources," he said.

Those various sources would be the Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR), the Hong Kong-based Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants and a number of religious organizations catering to foreign laborers in Taiwan. The missions of the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Mongolia -- the five main sending countries for migrant laborers -- have so far refrained from offering official positions on the proposal.

The NGOs point out that the implementation of the program would impinge on the rights of laborers, in particular with the requirement that each employee be required to save a given amount of money per month -- currently, the proposed amount is NT$3,000 -- in accounts that would be accessible only through the employer.

"Any worker should have the right to hold his or her money. It's theirs and what they do with it is no one's business," said Father Joy Tajonera M. M. of the Maryknoll Mission Association. "It's unheard of to limit the choice of banks and restrict access to one's own money."

Banks apparently think similarly. According to Wu Chia-pei (吳佳佩), head of TAHR, bank representatives have raised doubts about the plan on the basis that forced savings and restricted access to accounts would violate the Bank Law (銀行法) and also possibly the Employment Services Act (就業服務法).

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