Fisheries Act change prompts outrage

FLOODGATES TO OPEN?:Legislator Lin Shu-fen said the amendment was a ‘crack’ in the system, which could see fishing boat owners wait on another debt write-off

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff reporter

Sat, Jan 24, 2015 - Page 1

Citizen’s Congress Watch yesterday lashed out the legislature for the passage of an amendment to the Fisheries Act (漁業法) that relieved employers of foreign fishermen of the obligation to pay for employees’ health insurance premiums dating back to 2009, while opposition lawmakers expressed concern that the amendment heralded a possible exclusion of the workers from the mandatory insurance system.

Late on Thursday night, one day before the legislative session ended, the legislature approved the controversial amendment without objection, despite concerns voiced by several civil groups led by Citizen’s Congress Watch earlier this week over alleged violations of international covenants on human rights.

The amendment to Article 69-2 waived debts employers of migrant marine workers should have paid for the workers’ coverage under the National Health Insurance (NHI) from 2009 until the passage of the amendment.

The change was proposed by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators Su Ching-chuan (蘇清泉) and Huang Chao-hsun (黃昭順). It garnered more than a dozen KMT lawmakers’ signatures and was endorsed by all parties.

The proposal was put forward because “foreign fishermen have long been insured by their employers under commercial insurance schemes rather than through the NHI and foreign fishermen paid out of their own pockets instead of using the NHI system when seeking medical help,” its initiators said.

The NHI administration’s demand for unpaid premiums “has unreasonably made foreign fishermen shoulder the fees while not benefiting from the state-run system,” they said.

Citizen’s Congress Watch said that the reasons given for waiving employers’ responsibility to pay the premiums were not legitimate.

“Su’s proposal legitimized what had been illegal,” the group said.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) said the passage of the amendment was “shameful exploitation of a vulnerable group.”

Lin said it was “a symbolic crack” in the current system, which would mean that even though the law requires employers to insure foreign fishermen through the NHI, they could stop paying the premiums, as “lawmakers will someday write the debts off.”

Some DPP lawmakers proposed making other changes to the article, including one that would have exempted foreign fishermen from the nation’s labor insurance system if their employers had them covered by a commercial insurance firm, and one that would exclude the workers from the mandatory NHI system. The other amendments were withheld at the session.

Although the DPP’s proposals were not passed, Lin said she knew that their backers would resubmit them.

“A group of vulnerable fishermen fight the ocean for Taiwanese and we are going to deprive them of their rights,” Lin said.

“Is it sensible for the DPP, which has even agreed to have Chinese students who study in Taiwan insured with the NHI, to deprive foreign fishermen of the same right, especially when they risk their lives at their job?” she asked.

Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan