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New Philippine envoy hopes workers can enter Taiwan before Dec. 14

Fernandez wants to enable at least 4,000 Filipino migrant workers to arrive by then

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Wilfredo B. Fernandez. 

Wilfredo B. Fernandez.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The new Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) chairman, Wilfredo B. Fernandez, on Tuesday (Nov. 23) said he is aiming to complete an agreement with labor brokers to enable 4,000 Filipino workers awaiting approval to enter Taiwan to do so before Dec. 14.

CNA cited Fernandez as saying Tuesday (Nov. 23) that Taiwan has set three conditions for Filipino workers to enter the country: full inoculation with a COVID vaccine, proof of a negative COVID test before arrival, and at least three days of quarantine in the Philippines before leaving for Taiwan. Fernandez said the latter requirement has become a sticking point because there is not yet an agreement on who would cover the expenses.

The envoy said that his office has suggested to the Duterte administration that labor brokers cover the cost of the quarantine. "I think the agencies should pay because they made money out of the workers," Fernandez explained to the news agency.

He reasoned that it would behoove the brokers to help the workers leave earlier to cut down on the cost of housing them at training centers. He said that his office has sent its recommendation to the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and that Secretary of Labor and Employment Silvestre Bello III will discuss the matter with brokers.

He mentioned the goal of enabling workers to enter Taiwan before Dec. 14 because the ban on migrant workers is set to be reimposed from Dec. 14 to Feb. 14 to clear quarantine rooms for the approximately 40,000 Taiwanese expected to return for the Lunar New Year.

When meeting with Taiwan News on Nov. 18, Fernandez commended the outlet's parent company I-Mei Foods Co. for the direct hiring events it has held in recent years in the Philippines. The envoy emphasized that he would prefer Taiwanese companies do away with agents and hire Filipino workers directly because it would save them a great deal of money.

Due to a serious surge of COVID cases in Indonesia last year, the entry of migrant workers from that country was halted on Dec. 4. Amid a spike in local cases and the continuing pandemic, the entry of all migrant workers was suspended on May 19 of this year.

According to Ministry of Labor (MOL) statistics, Taiwan's migrant worker population surpassed 700,000 in September 2018. After barring Indonesian workers from entering for nearly a year and all other migrant workers for four and a half months, the migrant worker population was down to 699,154 in August this year, leading to a labor shortage in many areas of the country.

On Nov. 11, the CECC announced that Taiwan would reopen its borders to migrant workers in two stages. During the first stage, set to run until Feb. 14, 2022, all such workers entering the country will be sent to a quarantine center for 14-days, followed by seven days of self-health monitoring.

Seven Indonesian migrant workers landed in Taiwan on Nov. 17, becoming the first migrant workers to enter the country in six months. This first group of 1,700 workers is to consist entirely of Indonesian nationals.

MOL Workforce Development Agency Director-General Tsai Meng-liang (蔡孟良) on Nov. 11 said that Taiwan is currently negotiating with the governments of the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand on allowing workers from those countries to enter as well. Tsai said that among those three countries, Thailand has already clearly committed to fully cooperating with Taiwan's epidemic prevention measures and for that reason has a "great opportunity to be the next country that Taiwan will open (to migrant workers)."