In response to recent claims that students enrolled in the Cooperative Education Program are being exploited, the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) yesterday said that it would soon launch inspections into the students’ employers.
Over the years there have been frequent reports in the local media about the how students’ rights are violated when they intern at businesses under the Ministry of Education’s Cooperative Education Program.
Two months ago, the CLA confirmed that Young Fast Optical Inc illegally employed students under the age of 16 to work overtime with little pay.
Recently, a man in Taipei County claimed a hair salon forced his daughter to work more than 300 hours a month for only the minimum wage of NT$17,280, which amounted to little over NT$55 an hour.
Sun Bi-shia (孫碧霞), director of the council’s Department of Labor Standards said that even though students who participate in the cooperative education program are not laborers, their working conditions, hours and compensation in the event of occupational injury, are fully protected under the provisions of the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法).
The Act bars students under the age of 16 who are participating in cooperative education programs from working more than eight hours per day. Employers in violation of this rule are criminally liable, can face up to six years in prison and fines up to NT$20,000.
Sun said the CLA is currently evaluating whether or not businesses should be allowed to hire co-op students for up to one-third of their workforce, an increase on the current level of one-quarter.
There are concerns over the quality of education such students receive and suspicions that in some instances they are being treated as a form of cheap unregulated labor and to replace full-time and better paid regular workers.
The CLA also pledged to step up inspections to prevent exploitation. However, labor groups remain skeptical.
“Co-op students often become cheap labor and are exploited by businesses,” said Hsieh Chuang-chih (謝創智), secretary-general of the Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions. “The government cannot effectively supervise the system. If the students complain about working conditions, they are fired by the companies and replaced with other co-op students.”
Currently, about 35,000 students are participating in the co-op program.
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