Labor rights campaigners yesterday held a protest outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, complaining of legislative inaction and unveiling a plan to hold a symbolic referendum on the rights of migrant workers from next month to December.
“This time we are not here to beg the Taiwanese government to listen to our voice and change polices. We want to exercise one of our basic human rights, and we demand that the Taiwanese government let us have a role in determining policies that relate to us,” said Vietnamese Migrant Workers and Brides Office executive director Peter Nguyen Van Hung, a Catholic priest who led more than 100 demonstrators in shouting “Equal political rights” outside the legislature’s main gate.
Taiwan International Workers’ Association member Hsu Chun-huai (許淳淮) said the protesters plan to hold a mock referendum between Sept. 17 and Dec. 10 to protest long-running government inaction on migrant workers’ rights.
The referendum would cover issues such as granting migrant workers the right to freely switch employers, whether the current system of arranging work via private labor brokers should be abolished and whether foreign caregivers should be included in the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法).
Stringent conditions for switching employers have long been a point of contention, with many workers participating in yesterday’s protest coming from special shelters where they have been living after getting into disputes with their employers.
Hsu said that workers can end up stuck in shelters without pay for months before being allowed to change employers if the Ministry of Labor found that they have been treated illegally.
The intervening period represents a major financial loss for these workers, with many having paid several months worth of salaries in advance to labor brokers before starting work, Hsu said.
“Labor brokers claim that their role is crucial because without them, workers would not be able to survive or communicate with their employers — but we want to see what migrant workers really think,” Hsu said, accusing local and foreign labor agencies of “double-layered exploitation.”
Protesters demanded that the Ministry of Labor take direct responsibility for facilitating labor recruitment and providing assistance.
Taiwan International Workers’ Association member Chuang Shu-ching (莊舒晴) said the referendum is intended to spotlight the disregard for workers’ rights because they are not Republic of China citizens.
“They are making a contribution on Taiwanese soil just as much as Taiwanese workers. Why should the issue of citizenship be used to determine whether or not they have rights,” she said.
At least 10 polling stations are to be set up nationwide on Sundays during the referendum period at major migrant worker congregation sites, such as the Taipei Railway Station, Hsu said.
The results of the referendum will be announced at a planned labor rights march, Hsu said.
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