Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) has approved a proposal to relax restrictions on the recruitment of foreign workers to bring in more immigrant laborers, a move rarely seen and one which a labor group has said would not only upset the could also lead to further exploitation of immigrants.
At a Cabinet-level meeting earlier this week, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) jointly proposed that enterprises be granted extra quotas for foreign workers by making higher payments to a government fund under the CLA.
Taiwan uses a five-tier system to regulate the permitted ratio of foreign workers in an enterprise’s total workforce in different sectors, ranging from 10 to 35 percent, with the highest, 35 percent, applied to four industries — electroplating, forging, dyeing-and-finishing, and casting in the manufacturing sector.
Under the proposal, an enterprise would see its maximum amount of foreign workers raised by 5 percent if it agrees to double the fee it is required to pay into the Employment Stabilization Fund (ESF) — currently NT$2,000 a month for each foreign worker it employs — by 10 percent if it pays three times as much, and so on, Executive Yuan spokesperson Hu Yu-wei (胡幼偉) said.
The proposed plan was cleared during a meeting presided over by Chen as part of policy discussions aimed at finding solutions to address the labor shortage problem, Hu said, adding that details have not yet been worked out.
Lin San-quei (林三貴), director-general of the council’s Bureau of Employment and Vocational Training, said yesterday that exceptions to the statutory maximum ratio “will not be made without an upper limit,” but he was unable to estimate how many more immigrant workers the policy will bring in.
Administered by the CLA, the emplpoyment fund system was set up to obligate employers who hire foreign workers to reduce wage costs to contribute funds to the government that deal with vocational training with unemployed local laborers.
The ESF system has been fraught with problems. There have been several cases of employers illegally deducting the levy from the salaries of their foreign workers.
Sun Yu-lien (孫友聯), secretary-general of the Taiwan Labor Front, said the Employment Stabilization Fund was like “a discretionary treasure of the CLA.”
“The ESF is the main source of the funding of the Bureau of Employment and Vocational Training. Why didn’t the government allocate a bigger budget to the CLA? If an employer can pay the fee into the fund for a migrant worker it employs, why can’t it give the workers more decent pay?” Sun said.
In spite of the nation’s minimum wage also applying to foreign workers, the difference between the salary of a local worker and that of an immigrant doing the same job is substantial, Sun added.
Sun expected the relaxation of the quota would push up the number of foreign workers employed in Taiwan to over 500,000, from the current record high of 440,000, because experience has proved that “imposing the employment stability fee did not decrease the incentive to employers to hire foreign workers.”