by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Fcuk1203/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 4.0

MIGRANT WORKERS and migrant worker advocates criticized a recent wage hike that would increase the minimum monthly wage for live-in migrant workers, who primarily work in homes taking care of the elderly, from 17,000 NT to 20,000 NT. Namely, though the wage hike increases the minimum monthly wage for live-in migrant workers by 17%, the wage hike is still 5,250 NT below the minimum wage in Taiwan, which is 25,250 NT. 

Calls to increase the minimum wage for monthly workers so it is equal to the minimum wage for Taiwanese workers have been long-standing. Namely, migrant workers are paid less than minimum wage despite working around the clock taking care of the elderly, with little in the way of time off, routinely working days that are thirteen hours a day or longer. Some migrant workers are not even allowed any time off by their employers. Only 15,530 migrant workers who work in care institutions are allowed a minimum wage of 25,250 NT under current measures.  

To this extent, the wage hike is selective in nature, as it only applies to migrant workers signing new contracts or renewing their contracts after August 10th. The wage hike will not apply to migrant workers who are currently in Taiwan on contacts. The Ministry of Labor claims that this is necessary to avoid existing contracts. When the Ministry of Labor last increased the minimum wage for migrant workers in 2015, the wage hike also only applied to existing contracts. Workers who have been working in Taiwan for some time will not see their wages increase, but new workers will, suggesting that the government places little priority on retaining migrant workers in Taiwan. 

Following the new measures, the government will provide subsidies of 3,000 NT per month for low-income and lower-middle-income families to hire migrant workers, for up to three years. It is estimated that this will lead to 1.71 billion NT in subsidies distributed among 96,000 households in the next three years. The Ministry of Labor also recommends increasing the salary of migrant workers by 1,000 NT per month after three years of employment and by another 1,000 NT after another three years. 

Photo credit: Pbdragonwang/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Data from the Ministry of Labor in June showed that there were 218,372 migrant workers that were employed by families taking care of the elderly in Taiwan or as domestic workers. The majority of these workers were from Indonesia, with 164,786 from Indonesia. This is followed by 27,315 from Vietnam and 25,867 from the Philippines. 

The Ministry of Labor agreed to the wage hike after negotiations with the Indonesian government. In 2020, the Ministry of Labor became embroiled in a dispute with the Indonesian government after the Indonesian government decided to phase out broker fees. 

Brokers arrange for the transportation, employment, and sometimes lodging of migrant workers in Taiwan, but charge exorbitant fees, resulting in migrant workers owing significant debts to brokers. As such, phasing out the broker system and instituting direct government-to-government hiring practices has long been a demand of migrant workers and their advocates. For its part, the Taiwanese Ministry of Labor has claimed that there is a market need for labor brokers, as well as that the Indonesian government was acting unilaterally in its decision. 

Nevertheless, it is probable that the Taiwanese government was hoping to improve Taiwan’s reputation among migrant workers through the pay raise, while actually taking few measures to improve their outlook in Taiwan. Indeed, the Ministry of Labor’s wage hike has been criticized in that it may draw new migrant workers as hires, but does little for current migrant workers, who may be incentivized to try and change out of work as live-in caretakers to higher paid factory workers. Due to this fact, the government has sought to impose barriers on migrant worker transfers, such as mandating that they need to take place through government agencies. 

The same allegation can be raised with regard to a new residency plan for migrant workers that was announced in May. The residency plan touted pathways for migrant workers to secure permanent residency in Taiwan and looked broad-ranging on paper, in that 208,351 of 659,382 migrant workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand were eligible. Yet the barriers to actually securing permanent residency were steep, in that this would require migrant workers to be classified as “intermediate skilled manpower” by their employers through an application after six years of work. It would then require another five years of work to qualify for residency. More generally, one notes that the plan strengthens the power of employers over their workers, in that it is up to them to determine whether workers qualify for residency eligibility. 

The Taiwanese government was likely aiming to try and lure migrant workers to Taiwan at a time of labor shortages, whether in terms of family caretakers, or in the electronics manufacturing industry, through its measures. Yet, as can be seen, there continues to be a reluctance to take the steps that would make living conditions in Taiwan more attractive to migrant workers, with greater priority placed on luring them to Taiwan on misleading premises.   

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