30 years of the implementation of《Employment Service Act 》
A joint declaration of migrant workers’ organizations
Turn around the “anti-freedom”, “anti-equality” and “anti-public” migrant workers’ policies
After achieving “Economic Miracle”, Taiwan faced a critical time in terms of the transformation and upgrade of industries under the circumstances of an ever increasing labor cost at the end of 1980s. At that time, a lot of capital, lured by preferential policies in China, “went west”. The problem of labor cost for capital that stayed or couldn’t leave and those couldn’t or wouldn’t transform was seen as “a labor shortage”. Accordingly, Taiwan’s government decided to take in migrant workers from Southeast Asia as “supplemental labor force”.
The regulation of foreigners working in Taiwan was institutionalized with the official implementation of 《Employment Service Act 》on May 8, 1992. Workers are divided into “nationals” and “foreigners”, foreigners are divided into “white-collar migrant workers” and “blue-collar migrant workers” and the labor of migrant workers is divided into “legal” and “illegal”. 《Employment Service Act 》lays the foundation of “modern slavery system” by regulating “No Transfer of Employers” for blue-collar migrant workers. The Act also established the identity of blue-collar migrant workers as “guest worker” by stipulating a limitation on working years. What’s more, it allows the “taking in” and “management” of migrant workers to be monopolized by profit-oriented “private brokers” over a long-term period.
Over the past 30 years, we witnessed three times of government party changes and nine times of legislative elections. During this period of time, Taiwan’s government repeatedly sought the recognition of international society with “safeguarding human rights”. It signed 《The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women 》（CEDAW）and passed 《Act to Implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 》. Up to now, the so-called “supplemental labor force” has almost reached 700,000 people and has already become an indispensable part of Taiwan’s society. However, without political rights, these non-citizens never got the attention of the authorities and lawmakers and have never been treated equally.
Over the past thirty years, it has become clear that the migrant workers’ policies in Taiwan have the characteristics of “three anti”, namely “anti-freedom”, “anti-equality” and “anti-public”.
What is “anti-freedom”?
《Employment Service Act》clearly stipulates that migrant workers are not allowed to transfer employers, forcing migrant workers to stay in employer-employee relations even it’s uncomfortable. It deprives migrant workers of the basic rights to choose jobs; hence migrant workers become appendages to employers. On the other hand, if employers do not agree to transfer, migrant workers have to endure an almost half-year period of unemployment even if they succeeded in proving employers violated the laws. It is as if migrant workers are punished for raising questions.
During the COVID-19 outbreak in 2021, the central government did not interfere when Miaoli county government forbade the migrant workers in the county to go out. T
The Ministry of Labor firstly banned the change of jobs for migrant workers who have attained permits for transferring employers and then further restricted migrant workers to transfer to other industries to prevent domestic care-takers from transferring to factories for better working conditions. Once again, the freedom of migrant workers was unjustifiably narrowed in the name of pandemic.
What is “anti-equality”?
Even though migrant workers are also workers, they are restricted to sign a “term contract” and destined to fall within the category of “atypical employment”. Even though they are both migrant workers, “white-collar migrant workers” can work for as long as they want and are guaranteed with better rights to work and life (such as family gathering rights); whereas “blue-collar migrant workers”, whose sum total of working years allowed has been extended from two years to the current twelve and fourteen years, are seen as merely spare and disposable “guest workers” for employers and have to leave eventually.
Over the past 30 years, the government has not provided migrant workers with laws and information in ways they can understand. The most basic laws, such as 《Employment Service Act》 and《Labor Standards Act》are not provided with multilingual versions until recent years, after the protest of migrant workers’ organizations. The Taiwan government has never proclaimed multilingual drafts of the amendment of laws and policies related to migrant workers, let alone asking the opinions of migrant workers directly. Not only treated as “guests” who will eventually leave, migrant workers are placed in a secondary position during their long period of time of stay in Taiwan.
What is “anti-public”?
The Taiwanese government turns a blind eye to the monopoly on migrant workers’ employment market by brokers, who then profits willfully from migrant workers in the complicated process of employment, capitalizing on the discrepancy of languages and information. Before coming to Taiwan, migrant workers are already forced to be indebted with a huge amount of “broker fees” and they have to pay “service fees” with no service in return after arriving in Taiwan. What’s more, they are charged with “job-buying fees” when transferring employers. The government cut back on the public services. For example, the direct-hiring centers performed practically no function before the pandemic and the employment service stations around Taiwan do not have any bilingual staff even now, resulting in the exploitation of the most underprivileged migrant workers. The government shirks its responsibilities to guarantee the safety of cross-border labor force with the so-called “market mechanism”, which leads to the lack of appropriate and sufficient public-sector services for employers and brokers who want to avoid the exploitation of profit-seeking brokers.
Besides, the Taiwanese government in the 90s allowed individual families to hire domestic migrant workers because of the lack of “long-term care system.” This shifts the responsibilities of “long-term care” to every single family and individualized a public issue. At the same time, the working conditions of domestic migrant workers are not protected by laws. They shoulder 30 percent of long-term care with sweated labor – standby working hours of 24, no rights of leaves, and a salary lower than basic salary. The long –term care has evolved from “10 years of long-term care” to the much hyped “long-term care 2.0”; however, the government has ignored the fact that there are more than 200,000 domestic migrant workers employed in individual families all the way.
Over the past 30 years, with “anti-freedom”, “anti-equality” and “anti-public” as its main axis, the migrant workers’ policies evolved at a snail’s pace when it involves the rights of migrant workers. In contrast, the laws related to the needs of employers were passed quickly, sometimes sacrificing the rights of migrant workers.
In 2016, the Legislative Yuan abolished the requirement for foreign workers to leave Taiwan for a minimum of one day on completion of a three-year work contract to solve the problems of employers’ hiring gap and repeated exploitation of migrant workers. On the face of it, it is a “win-win for workers and employers”. However, when later it becomes clear that migrant workers are charged “job-buying fees” illegally, Taiwan government remain silent and does not come up with any problem-solving mechanism.
In 2019, the government ignored the fact that domestic fish workers have problems of overtime pay, rest time and dormitory because of the problematic implementation of Labor Standards Act. To make things worse, the government included fish workers into 84-1 exempt employee system and hence deteriorated the problems of working hours and rest time.
Last year, because of “a labor shortage” caused by the pandemic, the Ministry of Labor amended the regulations to “lock up” domestic migrant workers who intend to transfer to factories. This year, also under the pressure of lack of workers for employers, the Executive Yuan gave the green light to “Long-term employment plan for migrant workers” program overnight without democratic dialogue procedures. At first glance, ”long-term retention of migrant workers program” is beneficial to migrant workers. However, it actually extends the axis of “anti-freedom”, “anti-equality” and “anti-public”. For example, the application to become “intermediate-level skilled manpower” has to be initiated by employers, “intermediate-level skilled manpower” still can’t change jobs freely, and private brokers still have a place. Moreover, domestic migrant workers employed by individual families are not entitled to basic salary even after becoming “intermediate-level skilled manpower”.
Over the past 30 years, many migrant workers organizations were established based on various ideas. They serve migrant workers from different angles, find and try to solve all kinds of problems migrant workers face in Taiwan. They also voice and campaign in their own ways incessantly, aiming for a Taiwanese society that treats migrant workers more equally and with respect. With the 30th anniversary of 《Employment Service Act》approaching, we think it is time to give a general review of the migrant workers’ policies, which still lag 30 years behind.
After 30 years of the implementation of 《Employment Service Act》, we think it is time to thoroughly examine the migrant workers’ system. Specifically, the system should be reformed from the following three dimensions.
- Freedom to work- migrant workers should be entitled to free transfer of employers. We oppose to the policy direction that treat migrant workers as appendage to employers.
- Equality to rights- migrant workers should be provided with multilingual information and service. Discrimination between “white-collar” and “blue-collar” should be eliminated.
- Publicity to service- we oppose the monopoly of migrant workers’ employment market and the exploitation by private brokers. The government should expand its long-term care service and include all the migrant caregivers into the long-term care manpower.
We think the basic rights of workers should not be compromised for the profits of capital in migrant workers’ policies. We oppose to the differentiation of workers in migrant workers’ policies. Not only equal pay for equal work, but also equal rights for equal work. We argue that instead of subordinating the most disadvantaged migrant workers to the domination and exploitation of market mechanism, the government should shoulder the responsibilities of public service. We call for a thorough examination on migrant workers’ policies. Treat migrant workers equally and preserve the dignity of labor!
Freedom to work! Equality to rights! Publicity to service!
台灣移工聯盟MENT（Migrant Empowerment Network in Taiwan）
– 海星國際移工服務中心（Stella Maris）
– 平安基金會所屬勞工關懷中心（PCT. Peace Foundation Labor and Migrant Workers Concern Centre, LCC）
– 天主教會新竹教區移民移工服務中心（Hsinchu Migrants and Immigrants Service Center, HMISC）
– 天主教希望職工中心 （Hope Workers Center, HWC）
– 天主教台灣明愛會（Caritas Taiwan）
– 台灣國際勞工協會（Taiwan International Workers Association, TIWA）
財團法人天主教耶穌會台北新事社會服務中心 / Rerum Novarum Center
桃園市家庭看護工職業工會 / Domestic Caretaker Union (DCU)
越在嘉文化棧Khuôn viên văn hoá Việt Nam
宜蘭縣漁工職業工會Yilan Migrant Fishermen Union
台灣人權促進會 Taiwan Association for Human Rights
桃園市群眾服務協會 Serve the People Association, Taoyuan (SPA)
在台印尼勞工組織 Ikatan Pekerja Indonesia di Taiwan (IPIT)
全國家戶勞動產業工會 National Domestic Workers’ Union
印尼勞工團結組織 Gabungan Tenagakerja bersolidaritas (GANAS Community)
VMWIO天主教新竹教區越南移工移民辦公室Vietnam Migrant Workers and Immigration Office
婦女新知基金會 Awakening Foundation
台灣性別人權協會 Gender/Sexuality Rights Association, Taiwan
臺北市藝術創作者職業工會 TAIPEI ArtCreator Trade Union
境外生權益小組 Taiwan International Student Movement
社團法人台灣綠色公民行動聯盟協會 Green Citizens’ Action Alliance, Taiwan
人權公約施行監督聯盟 / Covenants Watch
環境權保障基金會 Environmental Rights Foundation
桃園市產業總工會 Taoyuan Confederation of Trade Union
台灣非營利組織產業工會 Taiwan Not-for-Profit Organization Industrial Union
台灣青年勞動九五聯盟 Taiwan Youth Labor Union 95
台灣電子電機資訊產業工會 Taiwan industrial union of Electronics, Electrical and Information Technology
行無礙資源推廣協會 Taiwan Access for All Association
台灣鐵路產業工會 Taiwan Railway Union
台灣工作傷害受害人協會 Taiwan Association for Victims of Occupational Injuries
台灣同志諮詢熱線協會 Taiwan Tongzhi (LGBTQ+) Hotline Association
新移民勞動權益促進會 New Immigrant Labor Rights Association
勞動人權協會Labor Rights Association
新活力自立生活協會New Vitality Independent Living Association