The Council of Labor Affairs is criticized for failing to address human trafficking.
The Council of Labor Affairs has made very good use of a very bad week for the Chen administration. What better time to announce policy changes that stab foreign workers in the back than when everyone is busy being dazzled by tales of the first family's woe?
The council ought to have been embarrassed by a report from the US State Department that chided Taiwan for failing to address the "serious level of forced labor and sexual servitude among legally migrating Southeast Asian contract workers and brides." The report also expressed concern over the treatment of workers who then flee exploitative working conditions.
Yet the council seems to think that foreigners still have it too good, and are rewriting the rules to please big business, all the while defending token "measures" that defend the rights of workers who are being abused or otherwise taken advantage of. It is as if the Kaohsiung MRT riot never happened.
Speaking of which, it is instructive that the council is washing its hands of the 700 mostly Thai laborers who were here at the time of the riot and who have been or will be sent home, contracts not renewed. This is an act of retaliation by the Kaohsiung City Council, which has made sure that the workers got their comeuppance. Result? The MRT project is now short of labor to the tune of 400 workers.
We also note with disgust the council's intention to abolish the minimum monthly wage of NT$15,840 (US$483) for foreigners. This will increase mistreatment of workers -- many of whom are already forced to go into years of debt by thug labor brokers to have the privilege of working here.
But even by this council's standards, Minister Lee Ying-yuan's defense of the plan is laughable. He argues that this basic protection for workers should be removed because some (unidentified) employers complain foreigners are being paid more than locals. It seems therefore that Lee is beholden to the opinions of employers who mistreat locals as well as foreigners.
As if all of this weren't contemptible enough, the council now wants to issue new forgery-proof integrated circuit cards to foreign workers to prevent them from "committing crimes" and "ensuring national security." How a piece of plastic will stop a laborer from stealing a pack of instant noodles, let alone weaken the nation's borders, is beyond us.
More troubling, however, is the anticipated cost of the program: a cool NT$500 million (US$15.27 million). All of this is money that could have been spent on genuine improvements to administrative and emergency support for foreigners. It turns out that it was utter fantasy that such things could be expected of the council.
It should be noted that there is a definite bias against Southeast Asians in the council's operations. Nationals from Western and other wealthy countries have any number of informal resources at their disposal to dispute and contest mistreatment by employers. But what can one do for workers who are allowed to be confined to quarters courtesy of a council-backed curfew?
This is a non-partisan issue. It is clear that both sides of politics could not care less about the exploitation of foreigners by local industry -- because both sides of politics cherish their connections with big business. For this reason, it cannot be assumed that the situation will improve with the arrival of a new government and a new minister.
This is a pity, because once human rights have been dealt with, there is the niggling problem of quality control. The less you pay, the less you get, and this is no less true with foreign labor. This government -- and the Council of Labor Affairs in particular -- seems to be bereft of any understanding that good labor relations produce good product.
Editorial "Why not just call them slaves?" Taipei Times. 22 JulY 2006.
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