Foreign workers’ rights ‘threatened by wage plan’

By Amber Wang The China Post

Labor rights advocates yesterday expressed concerns over the Council of Labor Affairs’s (CLA’s) proposal to introduce a payment management system for foreign workers, saying the new measure will be counter-productive to the CLA’s goal of curbing excessive broker fees and worsening absconding problems. The CLA plans to ask some 300,000 migrant workers to set up accounts in selected banks to deposit their salaries and pay for broker fees, while newcomers have to open the bank accounts prior to their arrival in Taiwan.

Migrants will also use the designated bank accounts to carry out other transactions, such as loans, tax returns, and remittances. An estimated NT$72 billion is expected to go through the system every year, according to the CLA. The so-called “money circulation management system,” which will be implemented as soon as next year, is intended to curtail the whopping fees charged by brokers both in Taiwan and the workers’ home countries to help ease the tendency for these workers to arrive and then flee their employment here for a better position. Banks will also be responsible for reporting any irregularities in the accounts, such as overdue salary payments or excessive broker fee deductions, to the authorities to better protect migrants’ working rights. However, advocates worry that the CLA would only help legalize illicit broker charges by authorizing loans via the special payment account. “Currently, some agencies have been overcharging broker fees in the guise of ‘loans’ to foreign workers,” said Susan Chen, chairperson of Taiwan International Workers’ Association.

“The new measure could create an even bigger loophole by authorizing the bank loans and therefore encourage more brokers to collect excessive fees via loans.” Above all, advocates cite concerns for the invasion of privacy and human rights by forcing migrant workers to carry out their transactions at designated banks.

Under the new measure, foreign workers will sign an affidavit of responsibility authorizing banks to disclose their account information to the CLA to investigate any payment irregularities. “Why can’t migrant workers be allowed to freely handle the money they make? Who is to take responsibility if banks fail to detect any payment irregularities,” Chen questioned.

Advocates are also critical of a monthly guarantee (tentatively set for NT$3,000) imposed for a period of 12 months as a precaution against absconding. The money will be reimbursed when migrant workers complete their contracts and return home. The Indonesian government has already eliminated the much-criticized security deposit program, which deducted a monthly NT$3,000 from the salaries of its citizens working in Taiwan in an unsuccessful bid to resolve the runaway problems. “The CLA is moving backwards with the guarantee requirement and it also fails to look into the root of the problems,” Chen charged. The real causes of the absconding woes, advocates point out, are the high broker fees and the hurdles for migrant workers to switch jobs. A migrant worker is usually stuck with a NT$120,000-plus broker fee (half paid to the manpower agency at home and half to the Taiwanese agency.) With a monthly salary of NT$15,840, they can hardly save much money in the first year of the three-year employment.

It is reported that some foreigners have “disappeared” at the airports to go working underground straight away in the hope of making more money. The CLA’s decision to tighten the interviewing process for foreign workers who wish to change employers has also prompted some to escape and work illegal jobs to avoid being deported, advocates said.

According to government data, a total of 13,600 foreign workers were reported as missing as of June, of which a large majority is Vietnamese.