Over 700,000 migrant workers in Taiwan have to pay intermediary service fees every month. Migrant workers complain, "Intermediaries only take money and serve no other purpose!" Migrants Enpowerment Network in Taiwan (MENT) gathered in front of the Ministry of Labor today (9/4) to urge the government to abolish the intermediary system and implement "government-to-government" direct hiring, providing migrant workers with fair, transparent, and exploitation-free job opportunities.
In 1992, the Employment Service Act was enacted, establishing a system where private employment agencies (intermediaries) introduced and managed migrant workers. However, over the past three decades, intermediaries have charged migrant workers various fees through complex introduction procedures designed by the Ministry of Labor and opaque employer transfer procedures, creating a "private intermediary monopoly in the migrant labor market."
"From the first day we arrived in Taiwan, intermediaries have been haunting us like ghosts!" Migrant workers from the Domestic Caretaker Union (DCU) came forward to accuse that the government expects intermediaries to assist migrant workers in arranging jobs, applying for residence permits, and handling various documents, but the reality is that intermediaries benefit without taking action. The advocacy group reminds that migrant workers are capable of learning how to handle various procedures themselves. Government-to-government direct hiring, service stations equipped with bilingual staff, and mandatory employer-provided vacations are the key factors to help migrant workers escape their vulnerable situation.
"Illegal Fees in Fancy Disguise - 'Paying for Terrible Jobs!'
An Indonesian migrant worker who arrived in Taiwan in August 2016 recalls his experience. He was initially employed at a recycling plant in Pingtung, but his employer assigned him to tasks far beyond his job description, such as producing 1 ton of cattle feed and 3 tons of grass daily. After enduring this for a year and a half, he couldn't take it anymore and requested a change of employer. He had to pay the broker a hefty job-buying fee of 75,000 TWD because his job-seeking deadline was approaching.
However, his new job lasted less than six months, as the new employer terminated him, claiming a lack of work at the factory. He explains, 'Whenever I went for another job interview, and if the new employer was willing to hire me, the broker would demand a job-buying fee ranging from 30,000 to 40,000 TWD.' Unable to afford these high fees and fearing deportation due to job loss, the worker was forced into the most unfavorable working conditions, which were extremely strenuous. Despite the hardships, he accepted the job because it didn't require a job-buying fee. However, after working for 2 years and 6 months, it severely damaged his health, leaving him unable to carry heavy loads due to back injuries."
MENT's officer, Ella, points out that, after the easing of the pandemic and border openings in October 2022, private brokerage companies retaliated by aggressively bringing in migrant workers to profit from introduction fees. Their profit tactics continually evolve, including job-buying fees, processing fees, interview fees, change fees, deposits, and final payments, among other things. "
This year, we've received many complaint cases where migrant workers were introduced to work in Taiwan, only to be terminated within three months, leaving them unable to find new jobs," Ella explains. There are even absurd situations where factories declare business contraction, yet brokers continue to introduce migrant workers. This influx of newly introduced workers, combined with those waiting for transfers domestically, has saturated the job market. As a result, many workers can't secure new employment and become "overstaying workers."
Brokers Hold the Reins – Migrant Workers Cry, "Treated Like Disposable Goods!"
A Filipino migrant worker shared a friend's experience where the broker didn't assist with obtaining a residence permit or provide health insurance despite charging fees. When the worker discovered their permit had expired for over a year, the broker claimed helplessness and shrugged it off.
"We are human beings, but we are treated as disposable commodities," says a worker from the Domestic Caretaker Union (DCU). When workers request time off, visits home, complain about excessive workload and overwork, seek half-pay sick leave when ill, or even ask for a decent bed, they often have to negotiate with their employers through brokers. However, their fate remains in the hands of brokers who sometimes treat them as damaged goods, leading to either dismissal or deportation.
"Finding new employment means paying fees, and even with money, it doesn't guarantee better work." This has become a dead-end. Migrant workers, under the control of brokers, often have no choice but to endure these circumstances.
Civil Groups Call for Abolishing Private Brokers, Strengthening Public Employment Services
At the end of 2023, the biennial migrant worker march is set to take place. The Migrant Empowerment Network (MENT) strongly advocates "abolishing the private broker system and direct government-to-government hiring."
MENT's Ella emphasizes that cross-border hiring is a government responsibility, including direct government-to-government hiring, bilingual staff at employment service centers, simplified paperwork procedures, and multilingual information for legal regulations. Various government agencies, such as the Labor Insurance Bureau, National Health Insurance Administration, and Supervisory Agencies, possess the capability to enable a migrant worker to complete procedures without the need for a broker.
Migrant workers assert, "We work hard in Taiwan and deserve fair care and protection. We support the abolition of the broker system and urge the Taiwanese government to provide us with services to protect us from exploitation by brokers."
〔RW News /Report from Taipei by Shan Man-ting（單蔓婷）/ 2023-09-04 16:00
〔Photo by Shan Man-ting（單蔓婷）〕