Legislators slam free trade ports bill

ABORIGINAL IRE: Lawmakers were unhappy that the Ministry of Transportation and Communications wanted to lower the percentage of Aboriginal workers at the ports

By Shelley Shan and Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Thu, May 14, 2009 - Page 4

Lawmakers serving on the Legislature’s Transportation Committee yesterday asked the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to raise the percentage of local workers and Aborigines employed at free trade ports in an amendment to the Act Governing the Establishment and Management of Free Trade Ports (自由貿易港區設置及管理條例).

Article 11 in the statute requires that business owners inside free trade ports hire Aborigines, who must account for 5 percent of their total employees. Those who fail to reach the 5 percent threshold must pay a deficiency subsidy. The same article also requires that local employees account for at least 60 percent of the total workforce at a company.

The amendment does not change the regulations for local employees, but has dropped the percentage of Aborigines from 5 percent to between 1 percent and 3 percent.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Tsao Erh-chang (曹爾忠) said the ministry should set identical standards for jobs reserved for Aborigines in both free trade ports and a draft bill that will govern the establishment and management of the Taoyuan International Airport Zone. The latter has yet to be passed by the legislature.

The Council of Economic Planning and Development previously oversaw the statute.

“Since the ministry has already set a 3 percent requirement in the airport zone, why don’t they have the same requirements here [free trade ports]?” Tsao asked.

Another KMT legislator, Yang Jen-fu (楊仁福), who is an Aborigine, said that there were 97 companies operating at the free trade ports and that only 16 of them had fulfilled the government’s requirement.

He said that a majority of them had failed to observe the rule, not because they were unable to find qualified personnel who were Aborigines, but because they wanted to hire foreign laborers.

Yang later asked a representative from the Council of the Indigenous Peoples whether he had been approached by any company in the free trade ports to recommend potentially qualified candidates. The representative said they had recommended some, but none of the companies wanted to hire them.

“Everybody says they love Taiwan, but they don’t love my people [Aborigines],” Yang said. “They say they can’t find workers, but that is just an excuse. The government has offered these companies many tax benefits. How can they simply ignore the rules and disregard the interests of local employees?”

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chen Ying (陳瑩) said that only those companies that have more than 100 employees can fulfill the 1 percent requirement and that only three companies in the free trade ports have more than 100 employees.

KMT Legislator Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞) said now that the nation is suffering an unemployment rate of about 6 percent, the ministry should increase the number of local workers and Aborigines required to help create job opportunities.

The committee is scheduled to continue its discussion of the amendment today.

Commenting on the proposed amendment, Association for Taiwan Indigenous People’s Policies member Hsiao Shih-hui (蕭世輝) said it has always been the group’s view that “the percentage of employment opportunities for Aborigines should be protected so that it is the same as the percentage of Aborigines in the population.”

Aborigines account for about 2 percent of the total population.

Taiwan Aboriginal Society chairman Wang Ming-huei (汪明輝) supported Hsiao’s idea.

“It’s unacceptable to cut the percentage to below the percentage of Aborigines in the population — the reduction from 5 percent to 1 percent is too much,” Wang said.

He also criticized the Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP) for not trying to stop the plan during a Cabinet meeting.

“The CIP is not speaking for Aborigines,” he said.

Obay a Awi, the Saisiat National Assembly spokesman, said the revision is “something that all Aborigines — not only Saisiat — should oppose.”

CIP Health and Social Welfare Department Director Alang Manglavan said the council would respect whatever decision the Cabinet and legislature made.

“As part of the Cabinet, we respect the Cabinet’s position on the issue. As the amendment has been submitted to the legislature for review, we will fully respect the legislature’s decision on it,” he said.