Foreign governments should not dictate labor agreements between their nationals and Taiwanese employers, the Ministry of Labor said on Thursday, after the Indonesian government passed a law requiring employers of Indonesian migrant workers to shoulder some of the placement fees that leave many Indonesians in debt and vulnerable to abuse.
The dispute concerns a long-held complaint from migrant workers and advocacy groups that Taiwanese employers do not have to pay any of the pre-employment costs for migrant workers, as brokers claims the fees directly from the workers, who often go into debt to come to Taiwan for work.
The Workforce Development Agency said that related expenses, such as travel, training and visa costs, should be agreed upon by the employer and the worker, not the government in a worker’s country of origin.
Taiwanese employers can always employ migrant labor from other countries, the agency said.
“In addition to Indonesia, employers can also hire workers from Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand to work in Taiwan. Contracts should be signed in accordance with the law, based on the laws of Taiwan, clearly stating the rights and obligations of both parties,” it said.
The issue arose after the Indonesian government on July 30 said that it was ready to allow migrant workers to travel to certain countries and regions, including Taiwan, after a nearly four-month suspension of travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Indonesian government also announced that it had reached agreements with 14 nations, including Taiwan, on migrant labor rules, the agency said.
However, the Indonesian government did not discuss the matter with the ministry through the proper channels, the agency said, adding that the ministry on Wednesday last week sent a letter to the Indonesian government for clarification, but has not yet received a response.
“The ministry will continue to ask Indonesia to clarify its position on the matter through bilateral communication channels, while continuing to safeguard the rights and interests of employers,” it said.
Migrant workers are in debt due to excessively high placement fees, and their dreams of pursuing a better life have been held hostage, said Benny Rhamdani, head of the Indonesian National Board for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Overseas Workers, in an interview on Monday.
The Indonesian government has therefore proposed a policy to protect migrant workers, he said, referring to a regulation that exempts Indonesian migrant workers from placement fees.
The policy, signed in July, is expected to go into effect within six months.
Placement fees should only be 14 million to 17 million rupiah (US$948 to US$1,151), but as migrant workers cannot obtain loans from banks, many use brokers who charge high interest rates, with some having to pay back as much as 70 million rupiah, Benny said, adding that placement fees should be partly paid by overseas employers and the Indonesian government.
The placement fees are equivalent to the first 10 months’ salary for migrant workers and if their contracts are only for three to four years, it is difficult for them to make enough money to return home and open up their own businesses, he said.
The regulation only applies to 10 categories of work, including caregivers, nannies, domestic helpers and fishers, Benny said, adding that these jobs are considered the most susceptible to exploitation and physical abuse.
The law does not apply to factory workers, he said.
As at the end of July, Taiwan had 197,204 Indonesian migrant workers employed in the social welfare sector, ministry data showed.
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