Over the past few years, migrant workers’ rights have improved in Taiwan, but there has not been a comparable improvement in protections for employers, who are faced with a range of challenges, such as family nurses mistreating patients or workers threatening to change brokers or demanding that employers change their jobs. Then there is the decrease in work standards.
Migrant workers too often find the lure of the underground jobs market irresistible, are unaware of employment laws and regulations, or have found that National Immigration Agency (NIA) checks are lax, and as a result abscond. If this happens, what protections or legal recourse do their employers have?
Employers who treat their migrant employees well and those who place unreasonable demands on them are subject to the same law. According to the Employment Service Act (就業服務法), if migrant workers employed as family nurses go missing, the employer must wait two to three months before they can apply to the Ministry of Labor for a replacement.
Families that apply for a nurse usually do so because they have a sick or elderly family member who requires care. When migrant workers become untraceable, it is often because they have intentionally abandoned their charge, and it is the person being cared for and their relatives who are punished as a result.
They are left without a caregiver during this period. Having their employee abscond is a daily source of anxiety for employers committed to following the law and using legal brokers.
The roots of the problem of disappearing migrant workers lie not with their employers or the brokers, but with the workers, together with illegal brokers and the people who illicitly employ them.
However, over the past few years, a whole raft of policies has been introduced to protect workers, especially those who abscond without a trace, but not the employers.
Imagine if you had a sick or elderly family member in the care of a nurse who went missing.
In addition to the exhaustion and extra cost of making arrangements to care for the family member, the employer then has to wait up to three months before they can start the process of replacing them.
If the replacement is brought in from overseas, they must factor in the broker, which adds at least another three months of waiting. That would also, of course, include an additional broker’s fee; and perhaps, with a little luck, this new worker would not take off.
Clearly, the employers’ rights and guarantees are comparatively weak.
Meanwhile, the foreign workers who are now working illegally continue to make money until they are caught.
There are more than 50,000 foreign workers missing and overstaying their visas in Taiwan, so locating them is akin to finding a needle in a haystack.
Most often, those workers wait until they have amassed enough money to return to their home country, and then they “turn themselves in,” hold up their hands and declare that they do not have the means to buy a ticket home. The government then buys them a one-way ticket back.
The NIA has extended amnesty for foreign nationals overstaying their visas from April 1 to June 30, with new measures, including that if they report to the authorities during that period they would not be detained and would only be liable for a reduced fine.
The amnesty was extended to encourage foreign nationals who overstay their visa, including absconding migrant workers, to have their processing and repatriation expedited, as long as they willingly present themselves to the authorities.
During the amnesty period, the NIA would even waive their detention fees and allow them to return to Taiwan.
These measures do nothing to improve the lot of families left without a caregiver or do anything to reimburse them for their financial loss.
Not long ago, the issue of migrant nurses overstaying their visas or disappearing from their jobs raised COVID-19 concerns, but this situation continues unabated.
To exacerbate the matter, as the government is trying to keep the COVID-19 pandemic at bay, the nation faces a severe shortage of overseas labor.
As a result, demand for the underground labor market has soared and wages have increased.
Consequently, the problem of foreign workers going off the books is likely to go through the roof, and the employers would be left particularly vulnerable.
If the NIA and the authorities are left toothless, how would people in need of caregivers for their sick and elderly family members feel assured that they can keep their nurses, and how does this make people feel about their futures, given Taiwan’s aging society?
Heidi Chang is an assistant professor at I-Shou University’s International College.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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