US government concerned about migrant workers’ rights in Taiwan

The latest Human Rights Reports released by the U.S. Department of State express concerns over the lack of rights of migrant workers in Taiwan

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Migrant workers rallied to call for better workers' rights on January 7 (Photo courtesy of Andy Ip Gia Thien)

Migrant workers rallied to call for better workers' rights on January 7 (Photo courtesy of Andy Ip Gia Thien)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The latest Human Rights Reports released by the U.S. Department of State Saturday (Taipei Time) express concerns over the lack of rights of Southeast Asian migrant workers in Taiwan.

According to the news statement from the U.S. authorities, the 2017 “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” document the status of human rights and worker rights in nearly 200 countries and territories.

The report on Taiwan says the roughly 600,000 Southeast Asian workers, mainly from Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand, are “vulnerable to exploitation.“

Many migrant workers come to work in Taiwan through brokerage agencies. Yet the report points out that many agencies ask migrant workers to take out loans for ‘training’ and other fees with banks imposing high interest rates, thus leaving those workers stuck with debts even before they get to earn a living.

Even though Taiwan’s Ministry of Labor has operated a Foreign Worker Direct Hire Service Center (DHSC) and an online platform where employers can hire foreign workers without using a broker, “the complicated hiring procedures and the online service’s incompatibilities with certain recruitment systems in workers’ countries of origin prevented widespread implementation,” says the report.

The report also cites the Taiwan International Workers’ Association as saying “after 10 years of DHSC operation, the government was still unable to complete the direct recruitment objective for foreign workers. Red tape in the system continued to enable brokers to exploit profits from foreign workers.”

In addition, household caregivers and domestic workers are not protected by the Labor Standards Act, which regulates the minimum wage, overtime pay, minimum breaks, and paid holidays that workers are entitled to. 

“Religious leaders continued to raise concerns that the law did not guarantee a day off for domestic workers and caregivers, which limited their ability to attend religious services,” says the report.

231,000 foreign caregivers and household workers who are mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines and have Muslim or Catholic faith, are sometimes subjected to give up attending religious services, according to the report.

The report also says although the law prohibits exploitation or abuse of foreign workers, and that the labor ministry conducts inspections at brokerage agencies or companies hiring migrant workers, there are still numerous reports of exploitation and poor working conditions of migrant workers, including foreign crews on Taiwan-registered fishing vessels.

The report points out that migrant workers often were unwilling to report employer abuses "for fear the employer would terminate the contract and deport them, leaving them unable to reimburse debt accrued during the recruitment process."

The report therefore urges the Taiwanese authorities to come up with measures to better protect foreign and migrants workers living in Taiwan.