The Council of Agriculture (COA) yesterday invited farmers and experts to a forum on addressing the nation’s shortage of agricultural workers, at which attendees expressed mixed views on the introduction of foreign workers on farms.
The nation’s agricultural sector is short 267,000 temporary workers and 15,000 regular workers, with farms in central and southern regions demanding more personnel, COA Deputy Minister Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) told the forum at National Taiwan University (NTU) in Taipei.
To ease the labor shortage, the council has implemented many plans, including introducing technicians and unemployed locals to help on farms and encouraging foreign students to seek part-time farm jobs on weekends, he said.
As for whether the nation should allow foreign workers on farms, Chen said it is an issue that deserves public discussion.
NTU Department of Agricultural Economics professor Chang Hung-hao (張宏浩) objected to introducing foreign agricultural workers, saying that it would temporarily alleviate the labor shortage, but other problems, such as personnel management and language barriers, would ensue.
Most farms lack temporary workers during harvest seasons, but current regulations do not allow foreign workers to freely change employers, he said.
Although introducing foreign workers would not be a cure-all for the labor shortage, “the door must be opened,” Dairy Farmer Association chairman Hung Chang-chin (洪長進) said.
The nation’s dairy industry — which is more labor-intensive than the poultry and pig farming industries — lacks a significant number of regular workers, a major hurdle to the industry’s growth, Hung said.
The council’s promotion of temporary workers has helped little, because dairy farmers need steady and skilled personnel who can work in the evening, instead of workers who only want to have fun, he said.
The council might consider launching trial programs to introduce foreign workers on dairy farms, he added.
The Ministry of Labor currently allows foreigners to work in only two agricultural industries: butchery and fishing, Workforce Development Agency senior specialist Chuang Kuo-liang (莊國良) said.
If the council plans to introduce foreign labor on farms, it should increase the salary standards for local workers and protect their work rights, he said.
As evidenced by the introduction of foreign caregivers about two decades ago, ushering in foreign workers on farms would not only affect the agricultural sector, but the whole of society, Chuang said, calling on those who support the plan to carefully examine it.
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