Wed, Jan 05, 2011 - Page 2 News List

Caregivers bill revision stalls

DO NO HARM:Despite opposition from other quarters, the Council of Labor Affairs, which oversees applications to hire foreign workers, does not oppose the amendment

By Vincent Y. Chao  /  STAFF REPORTER

Citing concerns over worker rights and long-term government policy, lawmakers yesterday failed to reach a consensus on a controversial revision that would allow foreign caregivers to spend more time in Taiwan.

The debate began after C.V. Chen (陳長文), the head of Taiwan’s Red Cross Society and a former senior government official, launched a public appeal last week to extend a license for his son’s caregiver. Chen said his son suffers from severe disabilities and requires fulltime care.

Currently, the Employment Service Act (就業服務法) prohibits foreign caregivers residing in Taiwan to work for more than nine years. Chen said he wanted to see this extended to 12 years, suggesting that this would provide for more consistent care and cut down on retraining fees.

Lawmakers from both parties said after a screening session that this move, which has already passed a preliminary committee review, would likely contradict a long-term policy aimed at reducing the amount of foreign caregivers and replacing them with family-based support.

“Even without foreign caregivers, I believe that we can give the same amount of care to our children with severe [disabilities],” said Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chen Chiech-ju (陳節如), who countered that her 36-year-old son also had special needs, but was taken care of by family members.

Noting that there were hundreds of thousands of families around the country facing similar challenges, she said that it was important that Taiwan move towards developing a set of long-term care standards that would not be completely reliant on increasing the numbers of foreign caregivers.

There are currently more than 170,000 foreign caregivers working throughout the nation out of a total number of 374,000 migrant workers, despite efforts to stem the increase, according to statistics from the Council of Labor Affairs. A recent report from the Control Yuan revealed that 33,000 of these foreign workers are currently unaccounted for.

Job opportunities in Taiwan for domestic help would be adversely affected if the employment of foreign caregivers was extended three more years, said Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Ho Tsai-feng (侯彩鳳), citing numbers that show more than 600,000 Taiwanese still out of work.

As the result of yesterday’s breakdown in talks, it is unlikely that the proposed amendment will clear the legislative floor before the legislature goes into recess next Wednesday.

Both parties have, however, shied away from rejecting the proposal outright, with KMT caucus whip Lin Yi-shih (林益世) saying that the majority of his caucus members still leaned in favor and would look for another time to review the proposed changes.

DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) also agreed that more discussion was needed.

There are concerns among DPP lawmakers that an extension would be detrimental to working conditions for the foreign caregivers, who could be pressured by their employers to remain in Taiwan for the full 12 years, if the amendment passed.

“We have to look at the fairness and health of these [caregivers] ... and how leaving their homes for 12 years could adversely affect them,” Chen Chiech-ju said. “We don’t have any plans for dealing with these [potential issues].”

The council, which oversees applications to hire foreign labor, has said that it does not oppose the amendment — maintaining that domestic job opportunities would not be affected — although labor groups and an organization representing the disabled have both spoken out against it.

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