Taiwan, Indonesia Spar Over Migrant Worker Fees

Taiwan, Indonesia Spar Over Migrant Worker Fees
Photo Credit: CNA

What you need to know

While Indonesia is taking on the responsibility for protecting their citizens, it is time for Taiwan to do the same for migrant workers in order to live up to its reputation as a beacon for human rights in Asia.

In July, Indonesia introduced a policy that exempts its migrant workers from all the pre-employment fees based on a new law. After the plan takes effect next January, the payment will be split by foreign employers and the Indonesian government, with the former covering most of the expenses.

A month later, Taiwanese employers rallied outside the Indonesian Economic and Trade Office (IETO) in Taipei to protest against the new rule and asked the Ministry of Labor (MOL) to reject the Indonesian government’s unilateral decision.

IETO, the de facto Indonesian embassy in Taiwan, has sent a letter on October 28 to notify the MOL of the new policy. But the ministry said, according to CNA, it will not accept the terms introduced by the Indonesian government and is still waiting for clarification. 

Taipei and Jakarta need to have a discussion before any changes can be made to the bilateral agreements on labor supply, noted Minister of Labor Hsu Ming-chun (許銘春).

The whole story

Under Taiwan’s current hiring scheme, migrant workers need to pay not only private brokers a “service fee” but also all the pre-employment fees on their own to move and work in Taiwan. These fees force many workers into debt before they start their work contract.

Benny Rhamdani, chief of the Indonesian Migrant Workers Protection Board, said the debt is equivalent to the first 10 months of their salary, making it difficult for Indonesian workers to “make enough money to return home and open up their own businesses.”

To ease the burden on migrant workers, the Indonesian government plans to pass the fees on to their employers. It said there are 14 types of fees incurred by these workers due to their employment.

According to new regulations, Taiwanese employers are required to cover 12 of these costs, which include roundtrip airline tickets, passport and visa fees, physical checkups, and fees for employment agencies. To hire a worker under this new law, employers would pay an extra NT$70,000 to NT$100,000.

The remaining two, costs for work permit application and pre-departure training, will be paid by the Indonesian government and training institutes in Indonesia, respectively.

For now, the rule applies to 10 categories of workers, such as caregivers, domestic workers, and fishing boat crew members, who are most likely to be subject to exploitation and physical violence, said Rhamdani. Factory workers are not included.

印尼擬要雇主負擔移工訓練費 身障者抗議(3)
Photo Credit: CNA
Nearly a hundred people with disabilities take to the street of Taipei to protest against the new Indonesian law that requires employers to pay some of the pre-employment costs for the migrant workers they hire, August 27, 2020.

In Taiwan, employers are afraid that they will not be able to afford to hire migrant workers if they are required to cover the extra costs. The fear is mostly shared among the elderly and people with disabilities, who need caregivers to help with daily activities.

According to the MOL, around 190,000 Indonesian blue-collar workers are employed in the social welfare sector. Indonesia is also the main source of migrant workers for Taiwan, with more than 77% caregivers and domestic workers in Taiwan hailing from Indonesia.

In response to the Indonesian policy, the ministry said it is now looking to recruit migrant workers from other countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, but it is hardly possible to replace 275,000 Indonesian workers in a short period of time.

Rhamdani, reiterating the law, said Indonesian workers can choose to look for opportunities in other countries, if Taiwanese employers are reluctant to obey the regulation.

A possible solution

The issue central to the dispute between Taiwan and Indonesia is who should pay the placement fees for migrant workers.

To save its migrant workers from running up debts, it makes sense that Indonesia would prefer to have Taiwanese employers to shoulder part of the pre-employment costs.

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Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images
Thousands of migrants workers march in Taipei urging the Taiwanese government to take up the role of a moderator between migrant workers and employers, April 30, 2017. Protesters call for the current private employment brokerage system to be replaced by a direct country-to-country hiring system.

For Taiwan, in addition to abolishing the brokerage system, it has to face up to the long-standing problem that migrant workers risk financial ruin to work in Taiwan. Private brokers charge a one-time fee of NT$50,000 to NT$200,000 from each worker and a recurring fee for their service every month.

While Indonesia is taking on the responsibility for protecting its nine million citizens working overseas, it is time for Taiwan to do the same for migrant workers in order to live up to its reputation as a beacon for human rights in Asia.

Taiwan’s government should take into consideration subsidizing local employers who are in desperate need of the service of migrant workers, including families of the elderly and disabled, as it allocates the national budget. The amount of financial aid could be adjusted based on need.

If the government ensures the subsidy goes to covering such costs of hiring migrant workers, this new policy will offer employers a stronger social welfare safety net and workers a real opportunity to support their families at home.


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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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