Social Workers to Feel the Brunt of Labor Act Amendments

Social Workers to Feel the Brunt of Labor Act Amendments
What you need to know

One survey indicates that most social workers in Taiwan already make less than US$1,000 per month.

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Just before revisions to the Labor Standards Act go into effect on March 1, anonymous online disclosure of wage levels in Taiwan’s social welfare sector point to a brewing outcry over low wages.

Under the revisions, some sectors will be permitted to compel employees to work for more than seven consecutive days between days off. The time between shifts will also be reduced from the current 11 hours to eight.

Even before final passage of controversial amendments to Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act, Minister of Labor (林美珠) emphasized that proposed changes would not go through a trial phase and be implemented in full starting on March 1.

賴清德, 林萬億, 林美珠
Photo Credit: 行政院
Lin Mei-chu (R) advocates a full steam ahead approach to implementing controversial changes to the Labor Standards Act.

Many social workers worry that they will be hit especially hard by the loosened regulations. In explaining the government’s policy, Lin pointed out that social workers dealing with disadvantaged youth should be happy for this more “flexible” approach in order to allow these children to have more social interaction over the weekends. He said: “Because these children grow attached to the social worker, can they just be left to somebody else to care for them?”

Backlash

The labor minister’s comments have generated much debate among social workers.

Chen Hsin-hao (陳新皓), a union leader for social workers in Taoyuan, accused government ministries of colluding to chip away at the welfare of social workers.

In a subsequent press release in response to Lin’s remarks, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) stated “to guarantee service quality, the health of employees and their rights, [institutions] should enforce an 11-hour rest period between work shifts. The MOHW has not asked the Ministry of Labor to make changes to these times for social workers. The MOHW emphasizes that employees of social welfare organizations currently use dual or triple shifts that allow for eleven hours rest between shifts.”

This hasn’t prevented an outpouring of angst from social workers online, many of whom are openly disclosing their monthly wage levels in “surveys” to draw attention to their plight even at the risk of being punished by bosses, as some organizations are small and employ only one or two workers. A “Taiwan Social Workers’ Salaries List” circulated online showing the name of the organization, job titles and subsequent salaries — including details on benefits and year-end bonuses — already has 800 entries as of Jan. 21, covering many of Taiwan’s largest and well-known NGOs.

Data shows that a social worker at Taiwan World Vision (台灣世界展望會) makes only NT$28,987 (US$997) a month. A social worker at the Garden of Hope Foundation (勵馨基金會) makes NT$25,593, while one working in early prevention services at Eden Social Welfare Foundation (伊甸社會福利基金會) makes NT$26,875.

Things aren’t any better for social workers working directly under local governments. Employees contracted by the Kaohsiung City Government’s Department of Social Welfare make only NT$26,547. Salaries for social workers at hospitals ranged from NT$23,158 at Lee General Hospital (李綜合醫院) to NT$25,000 at Gungtian General Hospital (光田綜合醫院).

These numbers give weight to the common held saying, “Social workers can save their clients, but not themselves.”

The News Lens asked social workers (who responded on condition of anonymity) with 10 or more years of experience of what they thought of these figures and the disparities between organizations.

One said, “There are some differences in wages due to seniority, and not everyone in the field is familiar with every aspect. While the numbers aren’t all accurate, on the whole they are quite close. These anonymous surveys are sometimes only filled out by those dissatisfied with their lot or feel they can’t discuss this internally. It’s difficult for data from these surveys to be completely accurate. However even if we accept opposing viewpoints, it is understandable that there is an appeal for higher wages in the nonprofit sector. The current environment will make such a prospect difficult.”

Others defend the survey and the anonymous participants. According to one, “It wasn’t the purpose of the survey to allow anonymous people to criticize and slander their organizations. By sharing the salaries of both reputable and less reputable organizations, social workers at the grassroots will have a reference point if they want to look for a better-paying position and subsequently work toward bringing forth working conditions that meet legal requirements.”

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An unabridged Chinese-language version of this article can be found here.

TNL Editor: Morley J Weston