Three issues related to migrants’ rights being voted on in a mock referendum garnered more than 90 percent support, mostly from migrant workers, but the results were not received positively by Ministry of Labor officials.
Of the 2,447 people who participated in the vote, 2,424 demanded legal protections for live-in caregivers and 2,413 supported the right of migrant workers to switch employers without restriction, said the Taiwan International Workers’ Association (TIWA), which staged the mock referendum.
The third issue on the ballot was about the private employment brokerage system, which has been criticized for charging migrant workers high fees.
An appeal for the system to be abolished and replaced by one mediated by the governments of Taiwan and the migrants’ source nation received 2,415 votes, the TIWA said.
The vote was not restricted to migrant workers, with 338 ballots cast by Taiwanese, it said.
A Taiwanese surnamed Lu (呂) said she supported legal protections for domestic caregivers because that would mean a guaranteed level of benefits from their employers, making them more willing to continue in their jobs.
Lu was among the few voters who cast ballots against the two other measures.
She was against lifting the ban on migrant workers changing employers without authorization because that would leave open the possibility that her grandmother’s caregiver, whom the family has put their trust in, could leave unexpectedly.
She also said the existing brokerage system needed to remain in place because having a broker take care of all of the paperwork needed to apply for a live-in caregiver was much easier than filing in the application herself.
Sumiyati, a migrant worker, supported all three measures and said that migrants who work as domestic caregivers do not have legal protections on working hours, the minimum wage and mandatory days off, and that the fees charged by brokers have forced them into debt.
Under Article 59 of the Employment Service Act (就業服務法), migrant workers are not allowed to change employers except under special circumstances, such as being employed in a job that was not what they were originally contracted to do.
Workforce Development Agency Cross-Border Workforce Management official Hsueh Chien-chung (薛鑑忠) said the article already allows for the possibility of changing employers, but Sumiyati said that in practice it is difficult for migrant workers to obtain approval to make such a change.
Migrant workers are required to present evidence to prove the unreasonable working conditions that do not fulfill their contract to apply for a transfer of employment, Sumiyati said.
Collecting the necessary evidence without help from the broker, who always side with employers against workers in such cases, is not an easy task, Sumiyati added.
On the call to end the private brokerage system, Hsueh said the government introduced “direct hiring services” in 2008 to help employers bypass brokers and about 25,000 migrant workers’ applications are processed through the system each year.
Noting that there are more than 600,000 migrant workers employed in 300,000 workplaces, Hsueh said the existence of employment brokers is simply “a matter of supply and demand.”
As long as there is strong demand for migrant workers, employment brokers would not shut down just because the government has ordered them to; they would go underground, making their supervision more difficult, he said.