Protecting domestic workers
Ms Heidi Chang’s (張姮燕) article (“Employers need protections too,” May 24, page 6) made the case that “migrant workers’” rights had improved in Taiwan, but employers’ rights had not, going so far as to complain that all employers are treated equally under the law — as though this was not how the law was supposed to work.
The truth is that the rights of foreign blue-collar workers have still not caught up with the rights their employers have always enjoyed.
This segment of the foreign community in Taiwan is more likely than other groups to encounter abuse. Recently, a care worker from the Philippines was threatened with deportation by her employer and brokerage agency for criticizing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Recall the Indonesian care worker who was repeatedly raped by her employer, was ignored by her broker and attempted suicide.
The law in Taiwan allows employers who are convicted of abusing domestic workers — including rapists — to hire a new domestic worker, who is likely to be female and highly likely to become a new victim, after the first offense. They are only barred from hiring after multiple offenses.
Instead of asking what employers’ rights are, ask this: Why is one rape not enough to bar them from ever hiring a home care worker again?
Workers in the fishing industry are often subjected to horrific conditions, including beatings, having their documents withheld, or outright slavery. Even though such treatment is illegal, it is difficult for fishing boat workers to seek help.
This abuse is rampant and has resulted in deaths. Taiwanese employers are the focus of more complaints by Indonesian fishers than any other country.
Employers are legally able to pay foreign employees well below the minimum wage, and domestic workers are still not covered under the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法). It is relatively easy for them to force their employees to work overtime, often without days off, or to perform tasks outside their contracts. Cramped dorms, and unsafe work and living conditions are not only additional risks, they have also resulted in deaths.
The easiest way to ensure a foreign worker does not abscond is to treat them well. Most people want to work legally, keeping the scant protections they have and usually “run” because they have no better option. “Undocumented” work offers no protection at all and might pay much less.
This fantasy of workers from Southeast Asia amassing huge sums of money at the expense of hardworking Taiwanese so they might return to their home countries is just that, a fantasy.
This is not just a problem with employers, it is a systemic one. There is no easy way to switch employers. Brokerage firms often charge exorbitant fees and openly exploit workers. The entire brokerage system is akin to legalized indentured servitude or human trafficking. It must be abolished. It is a smear on Taiwan’s reputation as a bastion of liberal democratic and human rights in Asia.
Most Taiwanese employers do treat foreign employees well. For those who feel that their rights are insufficient, I kindly suggest hiring Taiwanese workers. If they do not want to, perhaps they should reconsider who really gets the better deal.
Jenna Lynn Cody
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