The government has stood its ground regarding Indonesian demands that Taiwanese employers should shoulder part of the pre-departure costs of migrant workers, stating on Monday that it would not accept these one-sided terms. However, other than reiterating for the past few months that this is not acceptable, there does not seem to be any concrete progress on the issue.
Indonesia first announced the changes on July 30, when it said it was ready to send workers abroad after a nearly four-month break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that it had reached agreements with 14 countries, including Taiwan, on the supply of migrant workers. Taiwan’s Ministry of Labor denied having discussions with Jakarta about the matter.
On Wednesday last week, the Indonesian Economic and Trade Office in Taipei sent a letter to the ministry stating that from Jan. 1, Taiwanese employers would be required to pay 11 types of fees for Indonesian workers before they depart for Taiwan.
Considering the notorious exploitation and abuse migrants suffer at the hands of unscrupulous brokers and employers after arriving in Taiwan heavily in debt, it only makes sense that Indonesia is trying to protect its citizens. However, while being sympathetic to the plight of migrant workers, the government is right that such issues need to be agreed upon following bilateral discussions and should not be unilaterally imposed.
These fees could cost as much as NT$100,000, and must be paid before the worker arrives. If the worker leaves, the employer would have to pay the same amount to hire a replacement. Businesses such as fishing vessel owners already save a lot of money by hiring migrant workers, and their poor track record of abuse and exploitation might leave them little sympathy in this situation, but this across-the-board law is harmful to ordinary as well as disadvantaged Taiwanese.
For example, many disadvantaged or elderly people rely on migrant workers to care for them, and many cannot afford to pay these costs. In August, the Federation of the Spinal Cord Injured launched a protest against these stipulations. Last month, another disabled people’s association staged a rally outside the Indonesian trade office.
Yet what is the solution? Simply rejecting Indonesia’s demands would cause major issues with the implementation date looming, and reverting to how things were before would only allow the exploitation of workers to continue.
Some have suggested that Taiwan turn to other Asian countries to recruit workers. However, Indonesians comprise the largest percentage of migrant workers in the nation at 265,553 as of the end of September. They would be hard to replace.
The root of the problem remains that the hiring system is broken and gives brokers too much power, charging workers exorbitant fees that they spend years paying back. The brokers usually side with the employers when it comes to abuse, including forcing workers to perform jobs outside of their contract. Enforcement of workers’ rights and safety has remained problematic and inefficient.
A complete overhaul of the system is needed to fix the problem, but the government has been unwilling to do that, consistently siding with employers and using the “free market” as an excuse to allow them to choose how they want to hire and offering useless band-aid solutions.
Some concessions need to be made and strict, specific regulations should be worked out between the two countries. Taiwan should not just accept Indonesia’s demands, but it also has to offer something convincing in return to protect Indonesian citizens on its soil.
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