After migrant workers expressed their demands through Halloween costumes, calling for the government to take responsibility for employment and abolish the private intermediary system, the Ministry of Labor promptly responded, claiming improvements in direct hiring services and the option to file complaints against illegal broker. However, the question remains: Are migrant workers and employers truly benefiting from the government's direct hiring services, or are many still under the control of broker with no assistance from the government? Are individuals left to sign questionable contracts and face extortion from broker?
This morning (13th), Taiwan Migrant Workers Alliance held a press conference outside the Ministry of Labor, exposing the government's longstanding reliance on the private intermediary system for importing and managing migrant workers, making it challenging to realize direct hiring. Migrant workers and employers present shared their grievances, revealing how government inefficiency allows broker to use various tactics, causing migrant workers seeking direct employment to lose job opportunities and employers to face substantial breach-of-contract penalties.
May, a migrant worker from the Philippines, found an employer and wanted to be directly hired. However, the intermediary refused to return her invalid employment termination letter. The intermediary not only claimed, "Finding an employer is also part of our paperwork," but also stated, "I don't accept direct hiring." Only after May filed a complaint with the authorities did she reluctantly retrieve her documents. However, the intermediary retaliated by reporting her as missing during the period of changing employers. Surprisingly, the Ministry of Labor didn't question this and labeled May as a missing migrant worker.
The employment termination letter is proof of a migrant worker's legal ability to switch employers in Taiwan, with both the worker and employer holding a copy. Refusing to return it to the worker, the intermediary not only faced no punishment for illegally withholding the document but also used reporting the worker as a runaway as a means of retaliation. May had no intention of running away; she simply didn't want to be controlled by the intermediary, yet she lost her right to work in Taiwan, affecting the new employer who had finally found someone to care for a family member with dementia.
Employer Miss A hired a caretaker migrant worker through the intermediary agency "X People" over two years ago to care for her family. Because the caretaker performed well, Miss A agreed to renew the contract directly with her. However, when she began the renewal process, X People informed Miss A that if she handled the direct renewal herself, she would have to compensate the agency NT$54,000. Miss A discovered that the initial contract she signed with X People included unfair terms, such as stating that all renewal procedures must be handled by the original agency (see Attachment Two: Miss A's contract with X People).
Feeling this was highly unjust, especially with her family urgently needing care and the scarcity of caretakers due to the pandemic, Miss A, regardless of what the intermediary contract stated, had no choice. Miss A mentioned that the government only promoted direct hiring to her after she became an employer. She had already been forced to sign a questionable contract with the intermediary, and the direct hiring center only assists employers who have not appointed broker, leaving her, bound by the intermediary, with no avenue for help.
The cases of May and Miss A are not isolated incidents but rather indicative of a larger problem where many are victimized.
Numerous broker refuse to return migrant workers' termination documents. When workers complain through the established process, broker often tell labor authorities, "It's not that we won't return it, but we'll give the worker a new intermediary or employer." Surprisingly, many labor authorities accept this explanation. The termination document is the worker's own file, so why should they have to go through a third party to obtain it? When caretaker employers who want to directly hire tried calling the original intermediary, the intermediary demanded payment, using the non-return of the termination document as leverage. This demonstrates how broker consider migrant workers as their property, ignoring the fact that workers are individuals with the freedom to choose.
According to the Employment Service Act, broker are prohibited from illegally withholding personal documents of foreign workers, and the Ministry of Labor has established related penalties. However, even when migrant workers legally complain, and broker outright refuse to return documents, the government has not issued penalties. This leniency has emboldened intermediary companies, leading to instances where they even report complaining workers as missing. Migrant workers seek the return of their termination documents not because they want to escape but because they distrust the intermediary system and still want legal employment in Taiwan. The government's granting of the power to report missing workers to broker perpetuates a cycle where workers seeking to break free from broker are labeled as missing. Measures meant to prevent illegal employment by migrant workers in Taiwan have inadvertently become a means of safeguarding intermediary interests.
Contracts like the "sell-yourself agreement" signed by Miss A and the intermediary are not isolated incidents either. Similar cases involving employers who, after handling direct hiring during the renewal stage, were demanded compensation by intermediary agencies such as Taoyuan's X People and Kaohsiung's GuanX People and subsequently taken to court have been reported. These employers, forced into a corner, paid settlements ranging from tens of thousands to broker. The broker, sensing an opportunity, exploit the urgent need for caretakers in long-term care homes, compelling one employer after another to sign agreements forcing them to exclusively use the intermediary's services. Ironically, both of these intermediary agencies boast A-level ratings from the Ministry of Labor!
Whether it's Miss A or other employers facing compensation claims, they are very grateful to broker for finding suitable caretakers and establishing trusting relationships. Only after building this trust did they choose direct hiring after the expiration of contracts. However, this trust becomes a thorn in the side for broker, prompting them to preemptively contractually block the possibility of termination and coerce employers into continuing to entrust the intermediary with document processing. This also highlights the long-term absence of a public matching mechanism by the government, forcing employers with hiring needs to sign contracts with private broker and fall into traps from the outset. Taiwan's government, relying on the private intermediary system for importing and managing migrant workers, has made realizing direct hiring extremely difficult. Despite the presence of direct hiring centers, many broker obstruct and hinder direct hiring opportunities. While the Taiwanese government claims to want to retain migrant workers' talent, implementing various measures, it allows broker to monopolize the market, control both labor and employers, raising questions about whether it aims to retain talent for employers or ensure profits for broker. Taiwan Migrant Workers Alliance emphasizes that these cases are not isolated incidents but the result of the government's longstanding incompetence. It once again urges the government to take responsibility and abolish the private intermediary system!
Taiwan Migrant Workers Alliance (MENT)
Domestic Caretaker Union (DCU), Taoyuan
Hsinchu Diocese Migrants and Immigrants Service Center (HMISC)
THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN TAIWAN LABOUR CONCERN CENTER (Lcc)
STELLA MARIS INTERNATIONAL SERVICE CENTER (Stella)
HOPE WORKER’S CENTER (HWC)
Taiwan International Workers Association (TIWA)
Taiwan Association for Human Rights
Khuôn viên văn hoá Việt Nam
Rerum Novarum Center
Keelung Migrant Fishermen’s Union
Serve the People Association
National Domestic Workers’ Union
Judicial Reform Foundation
〔CivilMedia@TW / Taiwan Migrant Workers Alliance (MENT) 〕2023-11-13
〔photo from CivilMedia@TW〕