TAIPEI (CNA) — In an attempt to protect its workers from exploitation, Indonesia has insisted that employers of its migrant workers, including those in Taiwan, must shoulder some of the placement fees which currently leave many Indonesians in deep debt and vulnerable to abuse, but Taiwan’s Ministry of Labor (MOL) on Thursday responded by saying foreign governments should not decide labor agreements between their nationals and Taiwanese employers.
The dispute touches on a long-existing complaint from migrant workers and groups that advocate for their rights – that Taiwan’s employers currently do not have to pay any of the pre-employment costs for the migrants, as the system currently allows brokers to exact fees only from the overseas laborers, who cannot afford to pay them and must go into debt to come to Taiwan for work.
In a statement to CNA, the MOL’s Workforce Development Agency (WDA) said related expenses, such as air tickets, training and visa fees, that arise because of overseas jobs for migrant workers, should be agreed upon by the employer and worker, not the government in the worker’s country of origin.
Furthermore, in an indication of its displeasure with the unilateral move by Indonesia, the WDA noted that Taiwanese employers can employ migrant labor from other countries.
“In addition to Indonesia, employers can also hire workers from Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand to work in Taiwan. Contracts should be signed in accordance with the law, based on the laws of Taiwan, clearly stating the rights and obligations of both parties,” the WDA said.
The issue arose after the Indonesian government held a press conference on July 30 stating it was ready to start sending migrant workers to a number countries and regions around the world, including Taiwan, after a suspension of nearly four months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indonesia then unilaterally claimed to have reached agreements with 14 countries, including Taiwan, on the supply of migrant labor, the WDA said.
However, the Indonesian government did not discuss the matter with Taiwan’s MOL through proper channels. As a result, the ministry sent a letter on Aug. 26 to the Indonesian government for clarification, but has not yet received a reply, the WDA said.
“The Ministry of Labor will continue to ask Indonesia to clarify its position on the matter through bilateral communication channels, while continuing to safeguard the rights and interests of employers,” the WDA said.
The issue unfolded as Benny Rhamdani, chief of the Indonesian Migrant Workers Protection Board, said during an interview with CNA on Aug. 31 that migrant workers are in debt due to excessively high placement fees, and their dreams of pursuing a better life have been held hostage.
Hence, the Indonesian government has proposed a policy to protect migrant workers and take care of their welfare, Benny said.
“Countries that import labor and its employers must also know that this is in accordance with Indonesian law,” he said.
Benny was referring to a regulation signed in July and expected to go into effect in six months, that exempts Indonesian migrant workers from placement fees. The provision implements Article 30 of the “Law of the Republic of Indonesia Number 18 of 2017 on Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers,” which states that Indonesian migrant workers cannot be burdened with placement costs.
Placement fees should only be 14-17 million Indonesian Rupiah (NT$27,775-NT$33,749), but as migrant workers cannot obtain loans from banks, many go through brokers who charge high interest rates, with some having to pay back as much as 70 million Indonesian Rupiah, Benny said.
Hence, placement fees should be partly paid by overseas employers and partly paid by the Indonesian government, he added.
“This is fair and it is also required by Indonesian law,” he said.
The placement fees are equivalent to the first 10 months salary for migrant workers and if their contracts are only three to fours years, it is very hard for them to make enough money to return home and open up their own businesses, Benny said.
He pointed out that the law that placement fees must be paid by overseas employers and the Indonesian government only involves 10 categories of work, such as caregivers, nannies, domestic helpers and fishermen, Benny said.
These jobs are considered the most open to exploitation and physical violence, he added.
The law currently does not apply to factory workers.
CNA contacted the Indonesian representative office in Taiwan for more information on the matter, but had not received an official response as of press time.
Taiwan had 197,204 Indonesian migrant workers employed in the social welfare sector at the end of July, according to MOL statistics. There are also about 5,800 Indonesian fishermen working in Taiwan, according to statistics from the Indonesian government.