Proposed wage cuts could make life harder for foreign workers

By Richard Pearson, The China Post

Recent discussions within the Council of Labor Affairs’ Department of Labor Standards on a possible deduction of living expenses from foreign workers’ monthly salaries has been met with disappointment by laborers who say that their already low salaries barely allow them to get by in Taiwan and support overseas family as is. Under proposals announced Monday by the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA), foreign workers in Taiwan could see their salaries cut from early July while Taiwan faces a domestic economic slowdown.

Under the CLA proposed new salary calculating formula, according to Chi-jen Koa, vice chairman of the Cabinet-level council, local employers will be allowed to integrate boarding and accommodation payment into the government-sanctioned basic wage for foreign workers.

Overseas laborers, from Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam, are among the lowest-paid workers in Taiwan and generally perform jobs — such as house cleaning, domestic service, and construction — that Taiwan residents are reluctant to do. Reports of abuse and fraud directed at overseas workers are not uncommon.

According to local Chinese-language media reports, overseas laborers have greeted the proposal with disappointment.

The salary readjustments come at the same time that many overseas laborers are trying to obtain unpaid wages. China Times reported that over 70 workers employed by the Shang Lin Construction Company are seeking 3 months salary currently owed them. According to one Thai worker, for a long time employees have been unable to send money to worried relatives in Thailand. Local mass media reported that 78 workers from Thailand protested outside the Taipei City Hall. Local employers currently have to pay NT$2,500 to NT$4,000 per month in boarding and accommodation fees for each legally hired foreign worker, in addition to paying the minimum wage of NT$15,840.

Thailand has been the largest source of foreign laborers working in the local manufacturing and construction industries. Under the new measure, Taiwan employers would be able to save some NT$350 million in salary payments a month.

Koa said Thailand has agreed to the proposal in principle. Some 140,000 Thai workers in Taiwan, therefore, will be subject to the new salary calculating formula from July.

According to the CLA, because of different national situations of major labor exporting countries, the negotiation results with Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines remain uncertain.

An official at the Vietnam Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei, reached for comment yesterday, said that labor policy is a domestic issue and that any future moves made by Vietnam on the issue would be done in accordance with Taiwan laws and regulations. Philippines officials were unavailable for comment as the Manila Economic and Cultural Office was closed yesterday in honor of the nation’s Independence Day. The Indonesian Economic and Trade Office to Taipei could not be reached for comment at the time of writing.