TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Hundreds of migrant workers staged a rally in front of the Ministry of Labor (MOL) yesterday (Dec. 16) to protest against continued illegal broker fees despite an amendment to the labor law in 2016, reported UDN.
Two days before International Migrants Day, which takes place on Dec. 10, the Taiwan International Workers' Association (TIWA) and hundreds of migrant workers gathered in front of the MOL office in Taipei. Chen Hsiu-lien (陳秀蓮), Secretary General of TIWA, told reporters that the amendment to Article 54 of the Employment Service Act enacted in 2016 ended the requirement that migrant workers leave the country every three years to renew their contracts, and thus was supposed to spare workers an additional placement fee of NT$80,000 (US$2,600) to NT$150,000 (US$4,800).
Chen said that the law was a good idea, but brokers now charge other fees instead, such as "job-buying fees." If the workers do not pay the additional fees, the brokers threaten them with deportation to their home countries.
Man wears sign that says "broker" in Chinese while holding mock pieces of flesh. (CNA image)
Chen said that many foreign workers have reported such excessive fees to the local MOL office, but only received responses such as "this is illegal," and "You do not have to pay." However, because the workers are often at the mercy of the brokers, even the slightest complaint could cause them to lose their jobs.
Chen added that the original cost of renewing a contract should be NT$20,000 to NT$30,000, but the cost of the "job-buying fee" is actually NT$40,000 to NT$70,000. Chen compared this added cost to scraping another layer of skin off the workers.
A foreign worker from Indonesia said that before the expiration of his three-year contract, he was told by a broker that he must pay them NT$75,000 to ensure that he had another job lined up and would not be sent back to his country. However, it turned out to be a bogus job and when he complained to the MOL, they said he did not provide enough evidence, leaving him with no choice but to take the loss of his hard-earned money.
Workers complain brokers are scraping off skin after 3-year contract ends. (CNA image)
Chen said that this problem with additional illegal fees has been ongoing for one and half years and the authorities at the MOL should take concrete actions to remedy the situation. TIWA demands that the MOL put forward specific measures to abolish the private broker system and make a national broker system such as South Korea's Employment Permit System (EPS).
South Korea has a established government-to-government labor programs with more than dozen countries, and Taiwan should follow suit to provide a reasonable working environment for migrant workers, said Chen.
In response to the migrant workers' concerns, the MOL said if brokers collect fees that are in violation of the regulations, they can be fined 10 to 20 times the fee they charged, be forced to suspend operations for up to a year, and will not be allowed to renew their license once it expires. In addition, next year the MOL plans to strengthen the mechanism that enables workers to change employers, build a bilingual information platform, and provide more information on new jobs for those whose contracts have expired.
Vietnamese workers protest. (CNA image)
The MOL also reminds workers that if they believe they have been overcharged by brokers, they can report the problem by calling the toll-free multilingual hotline 1955.