The riot of Thai workers in Kaohsiung City has exposed the problems with the current brokerage system for importing foreign laborers.
Currently, foreign laborers can be brought in via three different channels: Through a brokerage agency in Taiwan and in the country of origin, through an employer and brokerage company in the country of origin, and through the assistance of an embassy or representative office in Taiwan and its counterpart in the country of origin -- better known as the "state-to-state" importation system.
In Kaohsiung City's case, the mass rapid transit (MRT) company had told the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) that it would import the Thai workers to build the city's MRT system via the so-called "state-to-state" importation mechanism in a bid to shake off brokerage fees.
PHOTO: WANG JUNG-HSIANG, TAIPEI TIMES
In other words, the company would have asked for help from the representative offices, or sent its own people to Thailand to select the workers.
However, it turned out that the MRT firm hired a company to get the workers, and another company -- suspected of being affiliated with the brokerage agency -- to manage them.
Prosecutors are now investigating why the MRT company hired the brokerage agency in the first place, as well as why it picked that particular company and where the brokerage fees came from and where they went. Prosecutors are very curious about the relationship between the brokerage agency and the management company.
There were over 300,000 foreign laborers in the country as of February this year, according to statistics released by the labor council. Brokerage fees vary from country to country.
Take Thailand for example. The brokerage fee a Thai worker pays to his or her broker in Thailand averages between NT$45,000 and NT$50,000. On top of this amount, they also have to pay a brokerage fee here after they arrive.
The monthly fee mandated by the labor council is NT$1,800 for the first year, NT$1,700 the second year and NT$1,500 the third year. The monthly charge for laborers returning for the second contract is NT$1,500. Brokerage companies overcharging their clients are subject to a fine 10 times the amount of the infraction.
Some brokerage companies, however, still manage to overcharge their clients. The amount could total as much as NT$150,000.
"Dishonest brokerage companies can easily cheat foreign workers," said the owner of a Taipei-based brokerage company, who preferred to be identified as Ms. Hsu. "Some unfortunate people are bilked -- fleeced and skinned like a sheep."
There are many problems with the current brokerage channel, Hsu said.
First of all, the decreed brokerage fees are not sufficient to cover costs, especially when the number of clients employed by a single employer is few, because brokerage agencies are required by the council to conduct regular visits and offer necessary assistance to their clients.
In addition, Hsu said that the council usually fails to give brokerage agencies and employers an adequate amount of time to react when it plans to freeze the importation of foreign laborers or increase the fees employers are required to pay to the government.
Nor does it make sense for the government to compel all Indonesian laborers to borrow their brokerage fees from the government-designated bank, China Trust.
The policy is aimed at preventing brokerage companies from overcharging.
In response, Fan Lai-chin (
"The labor council should sit down and talk with brokerage companies," he said. "Improvements must be made if their requests make sense."
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