The government must scrap clauses in the special statute on the establishment of free economic pilot zones that would allow enterprises to hire more foreign workers in the proposed areas before the legislature reviews it, labor rights groups said yesterday.
Speaking at a press conference, the groups said the government’s iteration that its bid to set up the zones has nothing to do with relaxing restrictions on hiring foreigners was either evading the crux of the issue, or simply a lie.
“There are already regulations that ease limits on employing foreigners to allow manufacturers in the nation’s free-trade zones to have larger quotas of foreigners on their payroll. These six sea port and airport free-trade areas are where the pilot zones are set to be established,” said Lai Chung-chiang (賴中強), convener of the Democratic Front Against Cross-strait Trade in Services Agreement.
“While the special statue does not explicitly mention relaxing these restrictions, the pilot zones would definitely increase the number of migrant workers employed in Taiwan, which would in turn raise the unemployment rate among locals,” he said
The project has met strong resistance from the opposition and the public, with Taiwan Labor Front secretary-general Son Yu-liam (孫友聯) saying that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration is already pushing for the second stage of legislation for the project, adding that the first was drawn up solely via executive orders.
“To avoid possible controversies about the pilot zones resulting in more foreign workers, the Ministry of Labor [then the Council of Labor Affairs] last year offered, by way of executive order, higher foreign employee quotas to enterprises under the guise of encouraging overseas Taiwanese businesspeople to return,” he said.
Kaohsiung Confederation of Trade Unions president Chiang Chien-hsing (江健興) added that in the same year, the ministry again revised the Qualifications and Criteria Standards for foreigners undertaking the jobs specified under Article 46.1.1 to 46.1.8 of the Employment Service Act (外國人從事就業服務法第四十六條第一項第一款至第八款工作資格及審查標準) “to lower the threshold for the enterprises to hire foreign laborers.”
Lai said relaxing these limits has significantly driven an increase in the amount of foreigners working in the country, which reached a record high of 510,716 as of the end of last month.
“Worthy of note is that the number of foreign workers in the industries — those not working as caregivers — has increased by 40 percent in 17 months, rising from 212,000 at the end of 2012 to 297,000 at the latest count,” Lai said.
He added that the regulations explicitly stipulate that the manufacturers in the free-trade zones are allowed to have up to 40 percent of their employees to be foreign workers.
“While the government claims that the pilot zones would be led by service industries, what we have seen so far from their design is that they are mainly manufacturer-oriented,” Lai said.
“A pilot zone that aims to profit by cutting human resource expenditure will not only do nothing to help the country upgrade its industries, it will also affect locals’ job opportunities and wages,” he added.
President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration is seeking to join an Indo-Pacific economic framework being planned by the US, a senior official said. The government is paying close attention to the regional economic pact being touted by US President Joe Biden, although too few details have emerged from Washington for Taipei to make specific plans, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The US is expected to launch the Indo-Pacific economic framework next month after negotiations with Australia, India and Japan, the official said. The economic initiative is to tackle trade facilitation, standards for the digital economy and technology, supply-chain resiliency and
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