EDITORIAL: Taiwan should lead on migrant rights

On February 17, the Ministry of Labor announced a new path to permanent residency for migrant workers and foreign students earning degrees in Taiwan. Workforce Development Agency Director General Tsai Meng-liang (蔡孟良) said the scheme, which is due to come into effect next month, aims to address the shortage of “skilled workers intermediaries” in Taiwan, which reached 131,000 last year. The news agency reported the day of the announcement. It could also have helped eliminate one of the most egregious injustices faced by migrant workers in Taiwan: being forced to leave after 12 years working here.

The program is unlikely to achieve either objective. To be eligible, graduates must be earning NT$50,500 per month within five years of seeking employment, which is higher than the country’s average regular monthly salary of NT$42,498, as reported by Management. General of the Budget, Accounts and Statistics last year. Under the scheme, live-in caregivers must earn at least NT$24,000 per month, and migrant workers in production, construction, agriculture and fishing sectors must earn NT$33,000. per month.

A Taiwan News report published on January 26 last year cited a ministry survey as showing that the average monthly salary for a caregiver was NT$19,918 and NT$28,583 for a migrant worker. He also cited caregivers as reporting an average of 10.5 hours of work per day.

The requirements of the new residency regime are simply unattainable for the majority of those it aims to help. Is the department taking the matter seriously? That should be the case, given that — as Tsai said when announcing the program — Japan and Singapore compete with Taiwan for foreign workers, and those countries offer more competitive wages.

Anyone who works in Taiwan for 12 years should be allowed to stay regardless of their salary. Canada – which is also grappling with a falling birth rate and an aging population – last year announced plans to grant permanent residency to 401,000 immigrants. To that end, it granted residency to 30,000 temporary foreign workers in essential occupations, including caregivers, who were eligible if they had “one year of full-time work experience, or equivalent experience part-time (1,560 hours) in Canada”. .in the three years preceding the date of the request”, whatever the salary.

Salary requirements can ensure applicants can support themselves and not become a burden on welfare programs, but 12 years of living and working in Taiwan should be enough to demonstrate an applicant’s ability to do so. .

If a carer does not earn at least NT$24,000 per month, or a migrant worker NT$33,000, the blame may well be partly on the state for failing to protect their labor rights.

A US State Department report last year said migrant workers in Taiwan are generally exploited and foreign fishermen working for Taiwanese employers are generally subject to poor working conditions.

The ministry should focus on improving the conditions of migrant workers, which should include increasing their wages, ensuring they have enough time to rest, and giving them accessible pathways to permanent residency. Taiwan needs foreign workers more than those workers need from Taiwan, so it is in the nation’s interest to be an attractive immigration destination. Canada and other countries learned that a long time ago.

Taiwan has been called a “beacon of democracy” in East Asia, so it seems inappropriate for it to be associated with harsh conditions for migrant workers. Japan has long resisted the idea of ​​welcoming migrant workers as a solution to its birth rate and population problems. Taiwan therefore has an opportunity to be an example for Japan on these issues, just as it has been with marriage equality.

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