On Oct. 21, 2016, the Legislative Yuan passed an amendment, spearheaded by Democratic Progressive Party legislators Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) and Wu Yu-chin (吳玉琴), to Article 52 of the Employment Service Act (就業服務法). The two lawmakers assured everyone that, after the bill was passed, employers would no longer face a wait when hiring migrant workers, and migrant workers would no longer run away.
In reality, the result has been that the wait to hire foreign workers has increased, while the number of runaways has risen by more than 60 percent from more than 50,000 to more than 80,000.
Runaway foreign workers who are working illegally not only seriously affect the rights and interests of local workers, but also cause social security problems that cannot be ignored.
The 80,000-plus runaways account for more than 11 percent of the total number of foreign workers in Taiwan.
While lawmakers are avoiding the problem, New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜), the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential candidate, has proposed a ridiculous policy of granting a “time-limited amnesty” for runaway foreign workers and letting them return to legal employment without being punished.
As a former director-general of the National Police Agency, Hou should be well aware that more than 80,000 illegal foreign workers roaming the nation can have a significant impact on social order and even cause a national security crisis, yet he is willing to put everyone at risk.
His proposed policy is ill-conceived and would be ineffective.
The social and national security problems arising from so many runaway workers, as well as nearly 100,000 stateless and unregistered children, should not be ignored.
However, the Ministry of Labor’s Workplace Development Agency, which is responsible for migrant labor policy, offers no effective solutions.
When questioned in the legislature, agency Director-General Tsai Meng-liang (蔡孟良) was at a loss for words and could not put forward any solutions, instead shifting the responsibility onto employers, and domestic and foreign labor brokers, calling for severe penalties for brokers.
His response was disappointing.
When employers and labor brokers bring foreign workers to Taiwan, the Ministry of Labor demands that migrant workers’ rights and interests be protected. It says they should be treated like Taiwanese and not be discriminated against.
However, although the government’s employment service stations refer at least 1 million Taiwanese workers to employers each year, several hundred thousand leave their jobs after less than a month.
How many stations have been penalized for these workers “running away”? How many officials have been penalized?
Tsai’s remarks discriminate against brokers and are therefore unacceptable.
It would not be difficult to solve the problem of migrant workers running away. The examples of Singapore and Hong Kong show that this problem can be solved by cutting it off at the source.
Premier Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) must solve the problem without delay. Chen should instruct the Ministry of Labor to amend the law to severely penalize illegal foreign workers, illegal employers and illegal brokers, thus cutting off options for illegal foreign workers.
This is the only way to curb the rise of runaway migrant workers and solve the national and social security problems.
Steve Kuan is a former chairman of the Taipei Employment Service Institute Association and the New Taipei City Employment Service Institute Association.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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