Migrant worker wage hike more band-aid than solution: labor advocate

08/11/2022 06:20 PM
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Migrant workers and labor groups stage a protest in Taipei in May, calling for better legal protection for live-in caregivers. CNA file photo
Migrant workers and labor groups stage a protest in Taipei in May, calling for better legal protection for live-in caregivers. CNA file photo

Taipei, Aug. 11 (CNA) The government's decision to raise the minimum wage for live-in migrant caregivers and domestic helpers may help to ease the current labor shortage, but it does little to make Taiwan an internationally competitive destination for such workers, a labor rights activist told CNA.

The new policy, which was announced by the Ministry of Labor (MOL) on Wednesday, raises the monthly minimum wage for migrant domestic workers from NT$17,000 (US$567) to NT$20,000 -- an increase of over 17 percent but still well below the NT$25,250 minimum wage for Taiwanese workers.

Notably, the wage hike applies only to newly arrived migrant workers and those currently in Taiwan who sign a new contract from Aug. 10, but does not affect workers with existing contracts.

Chen Hsiu-lien (陳秀蓮), a member of the Taiwan International Workers' Association (TIWA), told CNA that while the raise may help attract workers in the short term, it fails to address the real reasons Taiwan has struggled to recruit caregivers on the international labor market.

To improve Taiwan's competitiveness, live-in migrant workers need to receive the same minimum wage and labor protections as Taiwanese, and employers should also provide better working conditions, she said.

According to Chen, a monthly salary of NT$20,000 is still "extremely low," considering that by the MOL's own calculations, migrant domestic workers are on the clock for an average of 13 hours a day.

If employers are unable to pay the types of salaries needed to recruit and retain these workers, the government needs to consider using more of its long-term healthcare budget to subsidize them, she said.

Graphic courtesy of Workforce Development Agency under the Ministry of Labor
Graphic courtesy of Workforce Development Agency under the Ministry of Labor

Chang Heng-yen (張姮燕), an advisor to a group that advocates for disabled families and employers of migrant domestic workers, said the wage hike only affects the immediate problem of recruiting new workers.

What it does not address is the more pressing issue of worker retention, she said, as live-in caregivers frequently choose to leave their positions for higher-paying factory jobs.

What employers care about is not the amount of the raise but that it is introduced in stages, thereby giving workers an incentive to stay in their jobs, Chang added.

Meanwhile, the MOL on Thursday reminded employers who previously raised their migrant domestic workers' salaries above NT$20,000, that they cannot unilaterally cut their pay back down to the minimum wage.

Making any changes to a worker's employment contract without the consent of both parties is punishable by fines, as well as the potential revocation of one's permit to employ foreign workers, MOL official Chuang Kuo-liang (莊國良) said.

(By Wu Hsin-yun and Matthew Mazzetta)

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