The Indonesian National Board for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Overseas Workers on Oct. 28 announced that, from Jan. 1, local employers who recruit caregivers or domestic workers must pay all of the fees involved in bringing them to work in Taiwan. This has sparked great anxiety among employers, because the cost of recruitment would shoot up from about NT$30,000 to more than NT$100,000.
As well as organizing street protests, employers’ associations have asked legislators to hold a public hearing and to invite the Ministry of Labor, which might offer a solution.
As a result, the Workforce Development Agency, which is responsible for migrant worker affairs, sent a letter to the Indonesian Economic and Trade Office in Taipei to ask for clarification, but it has yet to receive a reply from the Indonesian government.
In reply to a legislator’s question, Minister of Labor Hsu Ming-chun (許銘春) said that the Indonesian government’s demand did not target Taiwan alone, and that the ministry would continue discussions with Jakarta.
Hsu might as well have said nothing — instead, it was Deputy Minister of Labor Lin San-quei (林三貴) who said that Taiwan is not obligated to comply with Indonesia’s policies, and that local employers could expand recruitment in other labor-exporting countries.
Some employers have voiced their approval of Lin’s statements.
In 2002, the Indonesian Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration sent a letter to all recruitment agencies in Taiwan, saying that Taiwanese employers and brokers must abide by all Indonesian labor laws, whether or not they have been promulgated.
This caused discontent among employers and brokers because it was a clear case of interference in Taiwan’s internal affairs, so they called on the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) — the forerunner of today’s Ministry of Labor — to do something about it. Then-CLA chairwoman Chen Chu (陳菊) instructed the Vocational Training Bureau to write and ask the Indonesian government for an explanation, but two months later, Jakarta had yet to respond.
Chen then took the bold step of telling the bureau to issue an order freezing the recruitment of Indonesian caregivers and domestic helpers. The freeze lasted for seven years. Hsu will hopefully respond in an equally resolute manner.
Over the past few years, President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration has encouraged Taiwanese businesspeople operating in China to return home and set up local factories. As well as funding, tax breaks and land incentives, the government has promised to assist them with their labor needs.
China-based businesses have steadily returned, but this has created a heavy demand for basic labor, which was already in short supply. This is a problem that the Ministry of Labor urgently needs to address. Especially as more foreign migrant workers are absconding from their legal jobs and businesses are finding it difficult to accept that no solution has been found.
Now that a labor-exporting country is creating difficulties, it is even more urgent that the ministry enable the sourcing of workers from other countries. It should also make appropriate amendments to laws governing the recruitment of migrant workers to prevent foreign workers from switching to illegal work.
Many years ago, when Lin was director-general of the CLA’s Bureau of Employment and Vocational Training, he put considerable effort into enabling recruitment from other countries with sources of labor.
Lin led a delegation to Bangladesh, where he signed a memorandum of understanding, and another to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Labour, Foreign Employment and Petroleum Resources Development, where, as well as meeting with the labor minister, he also signed a letter of intent regarding cooperation on workers’ issues.
However, these initiatives came to nothing because of interference from China.
In June 2016, the National Federation of Employment Service Associations made it known that the Indian government had expressed the desire for Taiwan to allow Indian workers to come and work. Then-minister of labor Kuo Fang-yu (郭芳煜) signaled his approval for the idea, but there has been no real progress since then.
The labor minister must be more resolute in facing up to Indonesia’s unreasonable demands. She should tell her ministry officials to meet the needs of local employers and businesses by opening up recruitment from more countries.
Steve Kuan is a former chairman of the Taipei and New Taipei City employment service institute associations.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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