Students face workplace exploitation: labor groups

STUDYING THE SMALL PRINT::Campaigners say that a knowledge-gap exists among many younger people, resulting in the toleration of widespread job-based abuse

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

Wed, Jul 04, 2012 - Page 3

Labor rights groups yesterday called on the government to provide information to students on employment laws as they are vulnerable to workplace exploitation when taking up part-time jobs.

Members of the Youth Labor Union 95, Taiwan Labor Front (TLF) and the National Federation of Teachers Unions gathered in front of the Ministry of Education, delivering a list of the most common types of work exploitation and ways to prevent them to the ministry’s representatives, who promised to make the material available to students across the country.

According to ministry statistics, the number of currently enrolled vocational, college and university students exceeds 1.8 million.

“We get lots of phone calls from young people during summer vacations, asking questions regarding their part-time work. It makes us realize that our students don’t have the basic knowledge needed to protect themselves from being exploited in the workplace,” Hung Ching-shu (洪敬舒) of the TLF said. “In school, they don’t teach things like employee rights and laws, but the majority of students are — or will be — workers. We think it is important that the Ministry of Education adds this kind of information to the curriculum.”

Hung said the most common problem they encounter is that many young part-time workers are unaware of the fact that it is compulsory for employers to provide national health insurance and labor insurance. Others may tolerate unlawful pay cuts.

“We had a case in which the employer deducted NT$100 from the employees’ payroll for every minute they are late for work. Their salary was NT$103 per hour [the minimum hourly wage],” Hung added.

The labor rights groups have offered assistance such as legal advice to part-time workers when violations happen.

“We once had a student who started working at a restaurant without salary confirmation. After three days of working, she raised the question to the owner, but the owner said: ‘You were on probation, but you didn’t pass, so I don’t have to pay you,” Youth Labor Union 95 member Chen Hsiao-wen (陳曉雯) said. “There was another student who asked us if it is okay to allow his employer to keep hold of his ID card because the employer had said it was part of the hiring process.”

The list compiled by the groups contains explanations about basic labor rights as well as advice on protection against work abuse. When violations occur, the groups said, workers can file complaints to the Council of Labor Affairs or labor bureaus at local governments.

Wang Hsiao-chien (王筱茜), a senior student at the Providence University (靜宜大學), said there is often a lack of support from family or social networks when students face workplace violations.

“When we have trouble at work, parents usually tell us to treat them as part of the training process saying: ‘If you really don’t like working there, then quit,’” Wang said. “So there seem to be only two solutions: You either choose to endure abuse or you quit your job.”