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Migrant workers rally ahead of January march for right to change jobs

March calling on government to allow blue-collared migrant workers to change employers to take place on Jan. 16

Migrant workers rally ahead of January march for right to change jobs

(CNA photo)

A coalition of migrant rights groups and migrant worker organizations rallied outside the Ministry of Labor (MOL) in Taipei on Sunday to call on the public to join them on a march next month to push the government to allow blue-collared migrant workers to change employers.

Migrant workers can currently change jobs only if their employer dies, factory closes down, fishing boat sinks, or some other reason that is not the fault of the worker, such as if the employer breaks the law, said Taiwanese Ella Weng (翁倩文), a representative from the Migrants Empowerment Network in Taiwan (MENT), a coalition of seven migrant rights groups. MENT is also the organizer of the labor rights march which will take place on January 16.

Outside of those reasons, a migrant worker can only change jobs if her employer agrees, Weng added.

"As Taiwanese, we all know what freedom is, but if migrant workers need their employers to agree to them changing jobs, is that really freedom?" Weng questioned. "If Taiwanese needed the signature of their employers to resign from their jobs, could you accept that?"

Weng asked Taiwanese to put themselves in the shoes of migrant workers and understand the struggles they have to go through.

At the rally, a 36-year-old Indonesian caretaker from northern Taiwan, identified as Ani, said last month she left the long-term care facility she was employed at to go live in a shelter because her employer had refused to pay for all of her overtime work and let her see her clock-in sheet.

The employer made her work long hours and refused to agree to let her change jobs, Ani said, adding that her employer told her it was illegal for her to reach out for help.

"I really want to ask everyone, do Taiwanese also need to have their employer's permission to change jobs?" Ani asked.

Another migrant caretaker, a 41-year-old Filipina who gave her first name as Janice, told CNA she is also currently staying at a shelter because her employer had mistreated her.

"They treated me like an animal, not like a human. I suffered a lot in the house of my employer," Janice said.

Her employer forced her to wear a mask all the time, except when sleeping and taking a shower, Janice said.

She left her employer in New Taipei about three months ago and has not received any salary during that time, Janice said, adding that she still has three children to support in the Philippines.

Fajar, an Indonesian community leader and president of Ganas Community, an Indonesian workers solidarity organization, said laws should be relevant to the current situation and not fall behind the times.

"We invite everyone who cares about the rights of migrant workers to join us on our march on January 16, in hopes that Taiwanese society will understand and that the government will abolish the law restricting the freedom to transfer jobs, which is the root of [our] oppression," Fajar said.

The march will take place on Jan. 16, with attendees gathering at Taipei Main Station's west entrance at noon before proceeding at 1 p.m. to the headquarters of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and then to the MOL building, said MENT in a statement.

In response, the MOL said that currently jobs transfers must follow the Employment Service Act, but migrant workers have the right to change employers and jobs at the end of their three-year contracts.

However, regarding the ability to change employers freely, public opinions will need to be gathered and a consensus established before any discussions can take place, since it involves employment stability and amendments to the law, the MOL said.

There were a total of 675,672 migrant workers in Taiwan at the end of November, according to MOL statistics.