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Ill-managed System Fuels Foreign Worker Problems

After years of a booming economy, Taiwan began to feel the impact of labor shortages towards the end of 1980s. To fill the gaps in entry level positions while meeting the needs of social and economic development, the government introduced foreign workers into the country in 1989 on a case-by-case basis. In May 1992, the government introduced the “Employment Services Act” and accepted foreign workers on a broader scale, since which the number of foreign workers in Taiwan has been growing by the year. However, lapses in management have created social and security problems. The Control Yuan appointed one of its Members to preside over the investigation.

The investigation found an institutional problem involving imbalanced supply and demand, insufficient coverage for long-term care, poor management on the part of responsible agencies, incomplete database for tracking foreign workers in Taiwan, and limited evaluation to include branch agencies. For disproportionate allocation and demand, the investigation has identified certain sectors with an oversupply of foreign workers in positions that could be filled by domestic workers, compromising local people’s right to work. The existing long-term care system, devised by the Executive Yuan, assigns most of the responsibilities to individuals themselves or their families, creating heavy burdens both psychologically and financially. The Council of Labor Affairs is advised to work with the Executive Yuan to introduce feasible methods in safeguarding the health of all citizens.

Poor communication and division of labor, coupled with a lack of advanced search system, have failed to provide crucial reference for establishing a sound foreign worker management that involves multiple agencies (from the Council of Labor Affairs to Immigration Agency). The Immigration Agency has been advised to build a comprehensive database to keep track of runaway workers, the number of which has been growing over the past few years (A total of 32,927 persons up to July 2010). As existing evaluation system fails to cover all agencies and their branch companies, certain cases have fallen prey to companies seeking loopholes and bypassing evaluation. Although statistics show a decrease in the number of companies with negative evaluation, increase in the number of runaway workers reveals a systemic problem that begins with ineffective evaluation process leading to failure to issue proper penalties and overcharging by employment agencies.

In response to Control Yuan’s proposed corrections, the Immigration Agency has requested coast guards and the National Police Agency to notify via faxes any foreign workers gone missing, before providing monthly tally of missing workers. At the Control Yuan’s request, the Council of Labor Affairs has:

  1. Held three meetings with labor, employer and the government representatives in 2010. Resolutions were made to adjust the proportion and streamline the application for the “3-D jobs”, namely jobs that are difficult, dirty, and dangerous, or “3-K jobs”, namely kitsui, kitanai, and kiken in Japanese. The new system divides the sector into five different classes with 10%, 15%, 20%, 25% and 35% of foreign workers on payroll respectively.

  2. Launched a special program to incorporate foreign caregiver application into the domestic care system, while promising to continue to review and update the policies in order to support long-term care system.

  3. Promised to provide updates on the profile of missing foreign workers (i.e. sector, gender and period of stay) to the Ministry of the Interior to facilitate communication among government agencies and keep track of foreign workers in Taiwan.

  4. Introduced a set of criteria and SOP to institutionalize evaluation of employment agencies. Representatives from the academia, industry, and county and city governments will be invited to review and modify the evaluation process at year’s end. A group of representatives from the academia, county and city government and recruitment sector has already been invited to review and modify the criteria for evaluation. The Council has increased the threshold for grade C from 60 points to 70 points.

  5. Funded 25 foreign worker counseling centers around Taiwan, staffed a total of 100 counselors and established a 24-hour 1955 hotline

  6. Set up desks at the two international airports to guide arriving foreign workers in their native language and to distribute booklets to provide crucial information (including regulations and rights) to assist foreign labors working staying in Taiwan.

  7. Conducted campaigns to educate employers and the public on relevant regulations and rights, so as to ensure smooth communication with foreign workers.