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Protest demands end to exploitation of migrant workers by brokers

12/10/2023 08:36 PM
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Labor organizations hold a migrant workers' rights parade on World Human Rights Day. CNA photo Dec. 10, 2023
Labor organizations hold a migrant workers' rights parade on World Human Rights Day. CNA photo Dec. 10, 2023

Taipei, Dec. 10 (CNA) Hundreds took to the streets of Taipei on Sunday to demand an end to the exploitation of migrant workers by brokers charging exorbitant fees and engaging in other predatory practices.

Starting at around 1 p.m., protesters marched from the Ministry of Labor's (MOL) Direct Hiring Service Center in Ximending to its main office near Xingtian Temple Station to demand the abolishment of the broker system and a streamlining of direct hiring.

According to the Taiwan International Workers Association (TIWA), one of the march's organizers, migrant workers have to pay between NT$80,000 (US$2,508) and NT$200,000 to an employment broker in their home country before coming to Taiwan.

One of the main demands is urging the government to abolish the brokerage system. CNA photo Dec. 10, 2023
One of the main demands is urging the government to abolish the brokerage system. CNA photo Dec. 10, 2023

Once in Taiwan, migrant workers, who make an average of NT$26,000 to NT$32,000 a month depending on their occupation, must pay "service fees" of up to NT$60,000 over the course of a three-year contract -- even if no actual services are provided, TIWA added.

Under current regulations, brokers can levy a maximum "service fee" of NT$1,800 per month in the worker's first year in Taiwan, NT$1,700 per month in the worker's second year, and NT$1,500 per month from the worker's third year.

"I pay a hefty sum every month to my broker -- but the service I get is minimal," an Indonesian migrant worker who asked to be identified as Adi told CNA.

Migrant worker groups condemn the government for long-term neglect of the exploitation of migrant workers through the brokerage system. CNA photo Dec. 10, 2023
Migrant worker groups condemn the government for long-term neglect of the exploitation of migrant workers through the brokerage system. CNA photo Dec. 10, 2023

TIWA said that although brokers in Taiwan had lost business after the government repealed a rule requiring migrant workers to leave and re-enter the country at the end of a three-year contract in 2016, they have since found new ways to make profits.

Because many government-run employment centers offer little help in foreign languages, migrant workers frequently have no choice but to pay brokers illegally inflated fees of NT$20,000-NT$90,000 for job-matching services, according to TIWA.

Those who refuse to pay the fees may be unable to find work, and, fearing deportation, often choose to abscond and find work illegally, it said.

Alongside what the organizers characterized as an exploitative broker system, the marchers urged the government-run Direct Hiring Service Center (DHSC) to "truly embody its name."

The center, established in 2008, is tasked to help migrant workers who want to change jobs find new work. However, the organizers said the DHSC lacks a streamlined procedure for direct hiring, forcing migrant workers to navigate through various agencies on their own to secure new employment.

Migrant workers may be charged up to NT$ 200,000 in brokerage fees to secure employment in Taiwan, according to an organizer of the protest. CNA photo Dec. 10, 2023
Migrant workers may be charged up to NT$ 200,000 in brokerage fees to secure employment in Taiwan, according to an organizer of the protest. CNA photo Dec. 10, 2023

In response to Sunday's rally, the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) under the MOL said in a statement that the current channels for hiring migrant workers were diverse and allowed employers to choose based on their needs.

This involves either directly hiring migrant workers from their home countries through the DHSC or relying on brokers for the hiring process, the agency said.

To address the problem of brokers charging excessive fees, the WDA said there will be initiatives to improve the management and oversight of brokers, without specifying when.

The agency also mentioned that, through collaborative efforts across government departments, bilingual application forms and interpretation services will be offered for migrant workers.

Speaking with CNA, Chien Yi-chun (錢宜群), an assistant professor at National Chengchi University, said there has been very limited improvement in terms of migrant worker policies because it's so deeply entwined with the party politics in Taiwan.

Chien said her own research into government labor policy showed that members of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had links to employers of migrant workers, including financial stakes in businesses.

Chien argued that the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) similarly showed little concern for migrant workers unless it pertains to the rights of China-born spouses.

There are around 751,000 migrant workers in Taiwan, according to the MOL.

(By Chung Yu-chen)

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Chien Yi-chun (right), assistant professor at National Chengchi University, sheds light on the challenges in enhancing migrant worker policies, attributing the limited progress to the intricate web of party politics in Taiwan on Sunday. CNA photo Dec. 10, 2023
Chien Yi-chun (right), assistant professor at National Chengchi University, sheds light on the challenges in enhancing migrant worker policies, attributing the limited progress to the intricate web of party politics in Taiwan on Sunday. CNA photo Dec. 10, 2023

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