New rules came into effect on Friday aimed at cracking down on runaway foreign workers, with agencies facing multiple fines and withdrawal of licenses to operate if a certain number of the workers they introduce into Taiwan abscond from their workplaces.
Under the new regulations, the Ministry of Labor decreased the proportion of foreign workers allowed to go missing before it takes action, capping it at between 2.45 percent and 10 percent of the total number of workers brought in by an agency depending on the size of the firm.
That range was narrower than the 3.1 percent to 18.7 percent previously set by the ministry.
Agencies face fines of up to NT$300,000 (US$9,822) for exceeding the limit. The government plans to immediately shut down agencies that are fined four times in a year under the new rules, which means an estimated 5 percent of agencies could be shut down.
However, labor advocates for migrant workers said the measure did not address the problems that caused the migrant workers to want to break the terms of their contracts in the first place.
Migrant workers have highly inflexible contracts with employers and agencies, Taiwan International Worker’s Association researcher Wu Jing-ru (吳靜如) said.
“A heavy debt to a brokerage and the inability to leave their employer means migrant workers are often afraid to speak out about the difficulties they face, and run away as a last resort,” Wu said.
“What we see here is a voluntary human trafficking system,” Wu added, saying that if the contracts remain the same, the new fines instituted by the ministry might only exacerbate the “harsh surveillance” of the agencies.
Taiwan has 1,500 agencies that bring workers from overseas and assign them to Taiwanese employers.
As of last month, Taiwan was home to more than 530,000 migrant workers, mostly from Southeast Asian nations, currently limited to employment as industrial laborers, marine workers and household caretakers.
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