Control Yuan members seek reforms of migrant farm worker program

01/01/2023 08:49 PM
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A Vietnamese worker cleans a dairy farm in Yunlin County. CNA file photo
A Vietnamese worker cleans a dairy farm in Yunlin County. CNA file photo

Taipei, Jan. 1 (CNA) Members of the Control Yuan have called on the government to reform its system for recruiting migrant agricultural workers, both to ease labor shortages and reduce the farming sector's dependence on undocumented foreign workers.

Control Yuan members Wang Mei-yu (王美玉), Wang Yu-ling (王幼玲) and Upay Radiw Kanasaw made the demand in a press release issued on Sunday, which highlighted the main points of a report approved by the government watchdog body on Dec. 7 of last year.

In the report, the Control Yuan members said the Council of Agriculture and Ministry of Labor had opened up recruitment of agricultural migrant workers in April 2019 without having a clear grasp of the level of demand or the extent of the labor shortages within the sector.

Since then, the agencies have adopted a "fix-it-as-you-go" approach to problems within the program, they said.

In terms of recruitment, the report noted that of the 271 "outreach agencies" that applied to bring 4,680 migrant farm workers to Taiwan through Oct. 15, 2022, only 1,218 workers requested by 162 agencies -- or 26 percent of the actual demand -- had been approved.

"Outreach agencies" refer to farmers' associations, or other animal husbandry or fish farming organizations that hire foreign workers and then assign them to work on local farms.

The challenge of recruiting new migrant workers has aggravated a long-term labor shortage, in which many Taiwanese farmers have only been able to hire undocumented workers, according to the report.

The Control Yuan members said that according to a 2019 study, there is an annual shortage of about 100,000 seasonal agricultural workers in Taiwan.

In recent years, these jobs have increasingly been filled by an "invisible workforce" comprised of Taiwan's more than 70,000 migrant workers who have left their legal employers and lost whatever rights they had, they said.

Because of their undocumented status, these workers lose their national health insurance benefits and give birth to children who, because their existence is unknown to the state, often lack access to basic child and health care services, the Control Yuan members said.

In the press release, the Control Yuan members urged the government to face up to the "complex symbiotic relationship" that has developed between Taiwan's agricultural sector and absconded migrant workers as a result of labor shortages.

The government should give consideration to the "predicament" these workers are in and especially look to protect the interests of their children who are born in Taiwan, the statement said.

After meeting with Control Yuan President Chen Chu (陳菊) on Dec. 23, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) agreed to set up an interdepartmental group to "handle" the issue of migrant workers who have left their legal employers and their children "from a human rights perspective."

(By Chen Chun-hua, Lai Yu-chen and Matthew Mazzetta)

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