Nation’s farms grapple with shortage of thousands of workers, COA says

By Wu Hsin-tien and Huang Yi-ching  /  Staff reporters

Tue, Feb 27, 2018 - Page 3

The nation’s agriculture sector faces a chronic shortage of workers, the Council of Agriculture (COA) said.

Of the total shortage of nearly 280,000, approximately 267,000 workers are needed for temporary jobs on farms and 15,000 are needed for routine work, data compiled by the council showed.

Taichung and Miaoli, Changhua, Yunlin and Nantou counties are troubled by a more serious shortage, with about 147,000 workers needed on farms, 54.9 percent of the total shortage, COA Deputy Director-General Lee Tui-chih (李退之) said.

Tainan and Kaohsiung, and Chiayi and Pingtung counties lack about 94,000 farm workers, while the north and the east lack about 13,000 workers, he said.

Regular and temporary workers are most needed on farms producing fruit and vegetables, while those producing garlic, Chinese cabbages, radishes, carrots, lettuce, peanuts and corn also need temporary workers, he said.

In central Taiwan, the sort of workers needed in the agriculture sector are similar to those needed by the manufacturing sector, but most workers go for the latter because it offers better pay, he said.

The nation’s vocational colleges changed into technological universities about two decades ago, which deeply affected the agricultural sector because most high-school graduates enter service industries instead of agriculture, Lee said.

Municipalities that rely on agriculture have been urging the government to improve the shortage of labor.

The Yunlin County Government since 2013 has been asking the Ministry of Labor to allow foreign laborers to be employed by farms or to allow the manufacturing industry’s foreign workers to help out on farms in their spare time.

The harvesting season varies by region and the shortage of workers could be solved if foreign workers are allowed to work on farms, said Chang Chih-lieh (張枝烈), secretary-general of the farmers’ association in Pingtung County’s Wandan Township.

However, both the ministry and the council are opposed to the suggestion, saying the opening up might affect the employment opportunities of domestic workers.

Agricultural workers are needed in certain seasons, but only for short periods, which could hardly be solved through the introduction of foreign workers, COA Deputy Director-General Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) said.

Farmers would not be able to employ foreign workers for only three months and they would have to pay a lot of brokerage fees in advance, Chen said.

Foreign workers are forbidden to change their employer under the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法), even when their work on a farm comes to an end, he added.

“Opening agricultural work to foreign workers is the easiest solution for administrative agencies, but it is also the most irresponsible way to go,” he said.

Reviving the economies of remote villages and encouraging more young people to return to their villages are the council’s long-term objectives, Chen said.

Additional reporting by Lin Kuo-hsien and Huang Shu-li