Well, this isn’t encouraging. The first concrete action which has been linked to Premier Su Tseng-chang’s (蘇貞昌) attempt to focus on crime has been taken by the CLA:
Companies and individuals who illegally hire foreign nationals will see their potential financial risks multiply five times starting next month, announced the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) yesterday.
Kuo Fang-yu, director-general of the CLA Employment and Vocational Training Administration who accompanied Lee to the Legislative Yuan, told reporters that there were concerns about the illegal workers resorting to crime.
“If these workers encounter problems and are not able to sustain themselves, they may resort to extreme measures such as robbery or other criminal activity,” Kuo said.
As the (very good) China Post article points out most of the illegal workers in Taiwan are young Filipino women who are hired as domestic helpers – given that they are much much more likely to be the victims of crime rather than the perpetrators Kuo’s justifications don’t make sense, and carry a rather unpleasantly racist undertone. Either Kuo just thinks the ‘crime crackdown’ is a convenient excuse to implement his policies, or he thinks that those dirty foreigners make a convenient scapegoat for Taiwan’s problems with crime.
To be clear, Taiwan does have a problem with illegal overseas workers – with an estimated 20,000 people (mainly from Southeast Asia) working illegally – but this problem is caused by rules imposed by the CLA which encourage exploitation of the workers. A situation which has just been exasperated by this new move. This is nothing new though – the problem is legislation dating back to 1999; this article from three years ago describes the very reasonable demands by foreign workers:
“The first is asking the CLA to re-include foreign workers under the protection of the Labor Standard Law (勞動基準法); the second is to remove the current employment agency system and replace it with a direct employment system to end agency-fee exploitation; the third is to set up a regulation to enforce time off for these workers. Lastly, we are asking for the right to switch employers freely.”
The Hope Workers’ Center was founded to assist needy foreign migrant workers in Taiwan. It helps more than 70,000 foreign workers a year.
According to O’Neil, in 1998 the CLA included foreign migrant workers in the Labor Standard Law, which aims to protect the basic rights of employees. For instance, the law specifies that the total number of working hours shall not exceed 48 per week, while overtime hours have to be strictly recorded and paid by employers.
“However, after foreign workers had been included in the law, employment agencies and employers started to file complaints about the hassle of keeping track of overtime hours and asked the CLA to exclude foreign workers from the law. As a result, in January 1999, foreign workers were once again deprived of their rights. Right now, there is no law to protect them at all.” O’Neil said.