Migrant Workers March for Better Conditions

Credit: Li Mu-yi
Why you need to know

Taiwan's migrant worker population is demanding greater say in policy that affects their lives in Taiwan and an end to the broker system.

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One in 10 Taiwanese children in elementary school and middle school has a foreign-born mother.

Despite heavy rain, wind and cold, several hundred migrant workers and supportive Taiwanese activists marched on Jan. 7 from the Ministry of Labor to the Presidential Office in Taipei. There, migrant workers held a rally in front of the barriers that Taiwanese media have labelled “the largest restricted area in Taiwanese history.”

Migrant workers demanded that domestic workers and caregivers are also included under the Labor Standards Act, that the current broker system is abolished and that the government promotes direct hiring; that migrant workers in Taiwan be able to freely transfer to new employers; that there are no limitations set for working periods in Taiwan; and that non-citizens should have some policy making rights.

Taiwan's migrant worker population has long called for an end to the current system in which employment brokers act as middlemen who arrange transport and employment for migrant workers, seeing as this allows them to impose high fees at every stage of the employment process.

Workers from Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Korea and elsewhere were all represented. As a result, the rally featured speeches in multiple languages, as well as an Indonesian musical performance, and performances portraying the plight of migrant workers. Large puppets and drums were also part of the demonstration and a sculpture of Taiwan was carried by workers. One of the large puppets was later filled with the ballots from the recent referendum on issues facing migrant workers.

The migrant workers’ demonstration was not directly related to current labor demonstrations against the Tsai administration’s planned labor law changes, but is an annual demonstration historically organized by the Taiwan International Workers’ Association, probably Taiwan’s most significant migrant workers’ advocacy organization.

While the Tsai administration has vowed to take action to better the situation of migrant workers, it has refused to dismantle the broker system, claiming that there is still the market need for such a system.

It is unclear what the request that "non-citizens have policymaking rights" would mean, though this is a growing demand among migrant worker organizers and Taiwanese migrant worker NGOs.

An outright expansion of the definition of citizenship is unlikely to gain traction among the public at large or politicians, but migrant workers, supportive Taiwanese labor unions and NGOs likely hope that migrant workers can have say in policy that affects their livelihoods in Taiwan. Though uncommon, some countries do, in fact, grant voting rights to non-citizens based on residency, usually at local levels of government, so that could be a potential precedent.

Nevertheless, it also should be kept in mind that, as the Tsai administration is fond of touting, one in 10 Taiwanese children in elementary school and middle school has a foreign-born mother, pointing to significant intermarriage between Taiwanese and Southeast Asian migrants, and that this will change the demographic composition of Taiwan’s next generation significantly. At the same time, however, migrant mothers are frequently left in limbo, because citizenship laws leave them at the mercy of their spouses in cases of domestic abuse and can otherwise trap them in in legal limbo regarding citizenship or regarding visitation rights for their children.

The rally today also made the demand that Chinese and international students be included in Taiwan’s National Health Insurance, previously an object of controversy among post-Sunflower Movement activists. Although the phrasing of the demands largely avoided the question of Taiwan’s sovereignty regarding Chinese students – since the Taiwanese labor movement has traditionally viewed issues of identity as a distraction from labor issues – the demands were critical of attempts by the government to impose higher tuition or higher insurance fees on international students and demanded broader inclusivity into Taiwan’s social welfare system.

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The original post was published on New Bloom here.

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TNL Editor: Morley J Weston

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