Taiwan should ban collection of migrant worker service fees: envoy

U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking-in-Persons John Cotton Richmond in a recorded speech at the 2020 International Workshop on Combating Human Trafficking held in Taipei. CNA photo Sept. 1, 2020

TAIPEI (CNA) — A U.S. special diplomatic envoy on Tuesday asked for Taiwan to ban the collection of recruitment fees, service fees, or deposits from migrant workers in the interest of preventing human trafficking.

The request was delivered in a pre-recorded message by U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking-in-Persons John Cotton Richmond and was played in Taipei at the 2020 International Workshop on Combating Human Trafficking.

“Taiwan should ban recruitment agencies and employers from charging foreign workers recruitment fees, service fees, or deposits — and they should enforce the ban. Employers should bear these costs,” Richmond said.

These fees and deposits often create vulnerabilities among migrant fishermen that later allow them to be exploited by unscrupulous labor recruitment brokerage systems, Richmond said.

“The authorities can then strengthen efforts of oversight over all foreign worker recruitment and placement agencies and processes to screen for these abusive indicators and stop them before they lead to human trafficking,” Richmond said.

U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking-in-Persons John Cotton Richmond speaks to the audience about Taiwan’s migrant workers at the 2020 International Workshop on Combating Human Trafficking / CNA photo Sept. 1, 2020

Taiwan has over 700,000 foreign workers employed mainly across the country’s caregiving and production sectors, Richmond said, adding that some workers incur substantial debts to pay recruitment brokers.

“These debts are tools of coercion in the hands of traffickers, who want to obtain or retain their labor through means of coercion,” Richmond said.

Observers suggest that Taiwan’s abusive recruitment agencies could be prevented from operating if civil society groups had formal input into the licensing process, Richmond said.

Filipino-American Priest Joy F. Tajonera, head of the Ugnayan Center shelter in Taichung, told CNA that the brokerage system in Taiwan allows the employer to avoid the responsibility of taking care of their employees.

“It’s the same problem when it comes to the fishermen, because when you try to talk to the employer when a problem arises, they will say ‘talk to the broker.’ And then if an issue is found, the broker gets the blame, while the employer just says ‘I don’t know (what’s going on).'”

Tajonera was referring to a case of six Filipino fishermen based in New Taipei City’s Shen’ao Fishing Port, who accused their labor brokers in July of making excessive deductions of NT$8,000 (US$272) from their salaries for up to 14 months.

Filipino-American Priest Joy F. Tajonera (second right) speaking with foreign dignitaries about the condition of Taiwan’s migrant workers at the 2020 International Workshop on Combating Human Trafficking / CNA photo Sept. 1, 2020

Excessive deductions is just one of the many problems that migrant workers face, as he receives reports of around 300 cases per month, mostly related to problems with their brokers, Tajonera said.

CNA contacted the Workforce Development Agency under the Ministry of Labor for a response, which said that it transfered the enquiry to their Cross-Border Workforce Management Division. However, no official response had been received as of press time.