Referendum on migrant rights gets support, but change won't be easy

2017/10/08 21:23:45
CNA file photo

CNA file photo

Taipei, Oct. 8 (CNA) Three issues related to migrants' rights being voted on in a mock referendum garnered more than 90 percent of support from voters, mostly migrant workers, but the results were not received positively by Ministry of Labor officials.

Of the 2,447 people who participated, 2,424 voted to demand legal protections for live-in caregivers, and 2,413 supported the right of migrant workers to switch employers without restrictions, according to Taiwan International Workers' Association (TIWA), which staged the referendum.

The third issue on the ballot was about the private employment brokerage system, which has been criticized for charging high fees for migrant workers.

The appeal for the system to be abolished and replaced by one mediated by Taiwan's government and the government of a source country received 2,415 votes, the TIWA said.

The vote was not restricted to migrants only, with 338 ballots cast by Taiwanese.

A Taiwanese surnamed Lu (呂) told CNA she supported legal protections for domestic caregivers because that would mean a guaranteed level of benefits from employers, making them more willing to continue in their jobs.

Lu was among the few voters who cast ballots against the two other referendum questions.

She was against lifting the ban on migrant workers changing employers without authorization because that would leave open the possibility that her grandmother's caregiver, whom the family has put their trust in, could decide to leave unexpectedly.

Lu also felt the existing brokerage system needed to remain in place because having a broker take care of all of the paperwork needed to apply for a live-in caregiver was much easier than filing the application herself.

Sumiyati, a migrant worker, supported all three appeals, telling CNA that migrants who work as domestic caregivers in Taiwan do not have legal protections on work hours, the minimum wage and mandatory days off, and that the fees charged by brokers have forced them into debt.

Under Article 59 of the Employment Service Act (就業服務法), migrant workers are not allowed to change employers except under certain circumstances, such as being employed in a job that was not what they were originally contracted to do.

Asked by CNA about lifting the ban on changing employers, as called for in the referendum, Hsueh Chien-chung (薛鑑忠), an official with Cross-Border Workforce Management in the Labor Ministry's Workforce Development Agency, said the article already allows for the possibility of changing employers.

In practice, however, it is difficult for migrant workers to obtain official approval to make such a change, Sumiyati said.

Migrant workers are required to present evidence to prove the unreasonable conditions they find they have to work in after arriving in Taiwan are not in line with their contracts to apply for a transfer of employment, Sumiyati said.

Collecting the necessary evidence without help from brokers, who always side with employers against workers in such cases, is not easy for workers, the migrant worker said.

As for ending the private brokerage system, Hsueh said the government has introduced "direct hiring services" since 2008 to help employers bypass brokers, and about 25,000 migrant worker applications are processed through this system yearly.

Noting that there are more than 600,000 migrant workers in Taiwan employed in 300,000 workplaces, Hsueh said the existence of brokers is simply "a matter of demand and supply."

As long as there is strong demand for hiring migrant workers through brokers, the brokers will not shut down just because the government asks them to and will go underground instead, rendering supervision more difficult, he said.

Regarding the call for live-in caregivers to be covered by Taiwan's labor laws, Hsieh Chien-chien (謝倩蒨), the director-general of the ministry's Department of Labor Standards and Equal Employment, said "it is not feasible" due to the difficulty law enforcement authorities would have in monitoring their working conditions.

The voting will run until Dec. 10. TIWA said the final results of the vote would be announced on Dec. 17 in tandem with a rally on migrant workers' rights.

(By By Yu Hsiao-han and Shih Hsiu-chuan)
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