Since the introduction of migrant workers in Taiwan in 1989, more than 700,000 workers have been employed in the long-term care service and manufacturing industry in Taiwan.
However, in the past 30 years, many rights of migrant workers are still not protected by Taiwan’s laws. Coupled with language barriers and cultural differences, they are more likely to become victims of unscrupulous labor brokers and be exploited, becoming socially disadvantaged.
In an exclusive interview with 4-Way Voice and The China Post, Legislator of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP, 民進黨) Hung Sung-han (洪申翰), shared his views and aims on the policy of migrant workers, and discussed the seriousness of the problem of labor brokers charging illegal fees and possible solutions.
Hung explained he had first acknowledged human rights and labor-related issues when he was a student. At that time, he was also very interested in the rights and interests of migrant workers. With his early experience with foreign caregivers at home, he could better understand the conflicts and difficulties faced by migrant workers and employers.
He said that migrant workers are in a weak position in Taiwan’s overall labor policy, and their situation is harder than that of domestic workers. In addition, problems involving cross-cultural and transnational systems make it more difficult for them to secure and protect their rights.
In this context, after joining the DPP, Hung decided to regard the issue of migrant workers as one of his key cultivation projects in politics, hoping to speak for migrant workers as a legislator and fix the defects of Taiwan’s long-standing migrant workers policy.
Hung said that the issue of migrant workers has attracted more and more attention in society recently, and the illegal fees which concern employers, migrant workers, and labor brokers, is also one of the issues that he cares a lot about.
He believes that there are many people in Taiwan who have personal experience on the issue of the illegal fees procured by sketchy labor brokers either from migrant workers or employers. Therefore, both parties harbor many grievances and complaints against the issue and the system that enables it.
According to the regulations of the Ministry of Labor (MOL, 勞動部), when a foreign worker is re-employed at the same job or re-employed at a different one after the expiration of their designated term, if an labor broker agency is entrusted to assist in handling relevant formalities, the agency may charge the worker a service fee of no more than NT$1,500 per month.
However, many labor brokers will add an additional illegal fee, which they obtain under the guise of allowing workers to “buy” job opportunities.
However, it is not only illegal to overcharge fees under such pretexts, but also create exploitation problems. The lack of work under the epidemic has led to the rise of these illegal fee prices, and laborers and employers have both suffered greatly.
In the early days, most of the victims were migrant workers, and they had to pay a lot of money out of their own pockets to come to work in Taiwan.
However, nowadays, the social structure has changed from a buyer’s market to a seller’s market, meaning many employers in Taiwan have to seek help from foreign caregivers.
Seizing the opportunity, illegal labor brokers will ask employers to pay the “purchase fees” before they can choose or have the opportunity to hire migrant workers.
On the other hand, some labor brokers use other methods, such as withholding migrant workers’ working permits or transfer documents to ask the next employer to pay the purchase fee before they hand it over to ensure a smooth transition.
Hung stressed that such fees are illegal and sometimes even affect legally-operated labor broker agencies. Once the agents sought by the former employers withhold the documents, they would have to pay the same fees to acquire them for the next employer.
And what is the solution to this phenomenon? Hung pointed out that the problems of the system cannot be solved by inspections alone.
“Today, if migrant workers or employers can get these related rights documents in a very simple way, or they can download them on the Internet as long as they pass certain verification processes; how can the problem of documents being detained still exist? How can anyone ‘kidnap’ these documents to ask the next employer or the migrant worker to pay for the subsequent job?”
He said that the problem is not that some people try to covet this vicious profit, but that the system causes these people with criminal intent to have the opportunity and space to collect the “purchase fees.”
He called on Minister of Labor Hsu Ming-chun (許銘春) to establish a multilingual online system as soon as possible, so that migrant workers or employers can obtain relevant documents in a simpler and more direct way, thus reducing the recurrence of such situations.
Hung promised to follow up on the relevant mechanisms of the MOL, including information platform interface and system design, to ensure that migrant workers and employers no longer have to bear the burden of “purchasing” jobs.