A proposed amendment to the Fisheries Act (漁業法) that would no longer require the inclusion of foreign maritime workers under public insurance plans provoked serious opposition yesterday.
Led by Citizen Congress Watch, several civic groups said at a press conference in Taipei that the proposal infringes on the human rights of foreign fishermen in Taiwan and vowed to stop the legislature from passing the bill during scheduled meetings today and tomorrow.
Taiwan employs slightly more than 10,000 foreign maritime workers, with a majority from Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries.
All three proposed versions of the amendment would allow owners of fishing boats to replace national labor insurance plans for their foreign employees with commercial plans.
One proposed version by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Su Ching-chuan (蘇清泉) would allow employers to omit payment of health insurance for their foreign employees between 2009 and the passage of the amendment.
Another version initiated by former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Pan Meng-an (潘孟安) — who was elected Pingtung County commissioner last year — would allow commercial options for health insurance plans.
Civic groups questioned the motivations behind the amendment and accused legislators from both parties of aiding employers to evade insurance payments for foreign fishermen.
Given that only 30 percent of employers in the fishing industry currently pay for the national health insurance plans of their foreign employees as required by law, allowing for commercial plans might allow even more employers to dodge payment, Taiwan International Workers Association researcher Wu Jing-ru (吳靜如) said.
The Yilan Fishermen’s Union, a labor rights group based in the county’s Nanfangao Port (南方澳) with more than 2,000 members from Indonesia and the Philippines, also stated its opposition to the amendment.
In a video statement, four union members said in Bahasa Indonesia that they oppose replacing public social security measures with commercial insurance plans, adding that migrant workers “deserved to be treated as humans, not animals.”
Taiwan Human Rights Association deputy secretary-general Shih Yi-hsiang (施逸翔) said that maritime workers require more protection from social security networks compared with other occupations, as they work in a highly dangerous environment.
The activists said the proposed amendments went against principles stated in two UN covenants on human rights — which the legislature signed as legally binding in 2009 — and implied discrimination against migrant workers.
Halfway through the press conference, Lu Ming-chung (魯銘鍾), a legislative aide at Su’s office, interjected and said that the groups’ remarks were baseless.
“Foreign maritime workers are always out at sea, so they will not be able to enjoy the benefits of national health insurance anyway. Why should we require health insurance payments for them?” Lu said.
The activists said that it was inevitable that foreign fishermen would require medical assistance from time to time, adding that the aim of social security measures should be implemented according to principles of social equality.
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