Lawmakers and small and-medium-size enterprise owners yesterday urged the government to reduce wages of foreign blue-collar workers to help to stop more companies moving to China and to help the domestic economy.
"Article 21 of the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) blocks Taiwan's economic development and creates incentives for smaller enterprises to move to China," said Huang Chung-yung (黃宗源), the deputy convener of TSU legislative caucus, in a hearing on foreign-labor management yesterday.
The Labor Standards Act says that all workers, whether Tai-wanese or foreign, white-collar or blue-collar, to be paid a wage determined through negotiations with his or her employer. However, it also stipulates that employers cannot pay less than the minimum wage, which is currently NT$ 15,840 a month.
As a legislator from Taoyuan, where many small and-medium sized companies are located, Huang has been trying to push a bill to make the minimum-wage requirement non-applicable to foreign workers.
His bill has been co-sponsored by nearly 40 legislators in the Legislative Yuan. It will be sent to the Rules Committee for further consideration in next legislative session.
"Taiwanese employers pay higher wages compared with their counterparts in Southeast Asia," said Taiwan Knitting Industry Association chairman Ted Chen.
"A foreign blue-collar worker in Singapore only earns NT$7,500 a month, while GDP per capita there is about US$25,000. How about in Taiwan?" Chen said.
Blue-collar workers from South-east Asia constitute the main workforce in Taiwan for small-and-medium companies, nearly one-third of which are located in northern Taiwan, according to the latest statistics by Ministry of the Interior. Most are Thais, Indonesians and Filipinos.
"We need more foreign blue-collar workers, or we will have to move our company to China," said Chuang Feng-nien, the owner of a knitting company.
"Youth in Taiwan don't want to work for such dirty, dangerous and labor-intensive industries such as ours. Employing more people from Southeast Asia won't increase the unemployment rate," Chuang said.
Labor activists, however, do not agree with Huang.
"They are out of their minds," said Lin Ming-hsien (林明賢), deputy general secretary of Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions (全國產業總工會). "What Huang said is all bullshit."
According to the Employment Service Act (就業服務法), foreign workers can make up no more than 30 percent of a company's total employees, Lin said.
"But Huang is trying to raise this proportion to 50 percent. How can this not damage the rights of Taiwanese workers?" Lin said.
Lin is opposed both to reducing foreign worker's wages and hiring more Southeastern Asians.
"Economic development aims to improve the people's welfare, but what those lawmakers and capitalists want to do will not benefit Taiwanese workers," Lin said.
A Council of Labor Affairs official also warned that the proposed legislation could hurt the country diplomatically.
Conventions of the International Labor Organization ban any form of discrimination and differentiation on wages, said Liao Wei-ren (廖維仁), a council official
If the bill becomes law, "international labor and human rights groups would not just sit by and do nothing," Liao said, and that could damage the nation's image.