Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) on Tuesday reiterated the nation’s commitment to fighting human trafficking during a speech in Taipei to the International Workshop on Strategies for Combating Human Trafficking.
Taiwan has been ranked as Tier One in the US Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report for the past eight years. That makes this nation one of only five in the Asia-Pacific region — and one of 36 worldwide — to attain Tier One status. While this is to be applauded, on Monday there was a reminder that Taiwan still has far to go to improve the lot of migrant workers.
A raid by New Taipei City police of an underground employment brokerage found one Vietnamese and 39 Indonesians — 30 women and 10 men— who were being contracted out as family caregivers or manual laborers. Most were illegal workers.
They were losing one-third of their wages to “brokerage fee” deductions and many of the women had allegedly been raped by the leader of the gang, who kept them cowered by threatening to turn them into the National Immigration Agency (NIA).
According to last year’s Trafficking in Persons Report, victims in Taiwan are predominantly migrant workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam working as home caregivers and domestic workers, or in the farming, manufacturing, construction and fishing sectors.
Domestic workers and home caregivers are especially vunerable to exploitation because they live in their employers’ homes, which makes monitoring their conditions difficult, the report said.
Another problem is that after the brokerage fees and other deductions, many of these workers earn well below Taiwan’s minimum wage, which is NT$21,009 (US$691.04) because foreign nationals working as domestic caregivers are not covered under the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法).
Indonesian caregivers — who, according to Ministry of Labor statistics, account for about 77 percent of the total foreign caregivers in this nation — only earn about NT$17,000 per month.
Taiwan is doing a lot right. The Human Trafficking Prevention Act (人口販運防制法) allows for violators to be sentenced to up to seven years and fined up to NT$5 million, while the immigration agency operates shelters for trafficking victims that offer medical, psychological and legal services and repatriation assistance, and the Ministry of Labor subsidizes other shelters and a 24-hour hotline.
The government has also made it easier to hire foreign workers through the Direct Hiring Service Center, although most employers still use brokers.
However, brokers remain a major problem for migrant workers, one that Indonesia is trying to eliminate by introducing a “zero costs” drive that encourages employers to cover expenses such as airfares and visa, health checkup and job training fees, as well as brokerage fees.
Being able to avoid having to use a broker to find a job overseas gives workers a greater percentage of their wages and reduces the possibilities for abuse.
The State Department report said that two problems still facing Taiwan were the need for increased understanding by prosecutors and judges of how to recognize and define human trafficking, and the need to extend basic labor protections to household caregivers and domestic workers.
It said that the majority of trafficking cases were not prosecuted under the Human Trafficking Prevention Act, but under the Criminal Code and the Child and Youth Sexual Exploitation Prevention Act (兒童及少年性剝削防制條例), often leading to reduced sentences.
Prosecutors involved in Monday’s raid said they intend to charge the suspects with operating an organized criminal ring, distribution of illegal drugs and rape, but not human trafficking.
However, the biggest improvement the government could make is to amend the Labor Standards Act to cover migrant workers.
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