The LSL provides standards for working conditions and health and safety precautions. As of June an estimated 6.6 million of the 8.3 million salaried workers held jobs covered by the LSL. Those not covered included management employees, health-care workers, gardeners, bodyguards, teachers, doctors, lawyers, civil servants, local government contract workers, employees of farmers’ associations, and domestic workers. An increase in the minimum wage to NT$17,880 per month ($600), or NT$98 per hour ($3.28), took effect in January.
The average manufacturing wage was more than double the legal minimum wage, and the average wage for service industry employees was even higher. The average monthly wage increased 5.3 percent to NT$44,430 ($1,488) in 2010. According to labor statistics, however, workers’ real wages were lower than they were 10 years ago in spite of an average 4 percent annual economic growth rate over the past decade. Labor experts and scholars attribute this decline in wages to increased competition for jobs due to the migration abroad of many industries. The poverty income level is estimated by the authorities to be 60 percent below the average disposable income of the median households in a designated area. By this definition, the poverty income level is NT$14,794 ($496) per person in Taipei, NT$11,832 ($396) per person in New Taipei City, NT$10,244 ($343) per person in Taiwan province, and NT$11,146 ($373) per person in Kaohsiung City.
Foreign household caregivers and domestic workers are covered by the Employment Services Act, which does not provide for a minimum wage or overtime pay, set limits on the workday or workweek, or provide for minimum breaks or vacation time. At the end of July, 194,000 of the 409,000 foreign household caregivers and domestic workers had applied for coverage under the Employment Services Act.
Legal working hours were 336 hours per eight-week period (for an average of 42 hours per workweek). A five-day workweek was mandated for the public sector, and, according to the CLA, more than half of private sector enterprises also implemented a five-day workweek. According to local labor laws, only “authorized specialists” approved by the CLA were exempt from the five-day workweek. In practice, however, violations of the five-day workweek maximum were common. After several high-profile “death by overwork” cases led the authorities to conduct an inspection of common workweek practices, the CLA found that approximately 700,000 employees had been asked to work overtime without pay. Approximately 400,000 employees were told by their company that they were “authorized specialists” who were exempt from workweek maximums, while in fact the CLA had approved only 100,000 employees to work in the authorized specialist category. The survey also found that in 2010, 27 percent of surveyed employees had been asked to work in excess of the 12-hour-per-day maximum. To address this issue, the LY in June passed an amendment to the Labor Standards Law raising by 500 percent the fine for violating legal work maximums, from NT$60,000 to NT$300,000 ($2,010 to $10,050) for violations, and mandated that the name of the offending company would be broadcast to the public.
The law provides standards for health and safety and gives workers the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to their continued employment. There was widespread criticism, however, that the CLA did not effectively enforce workplace health and safety laws and regulations. In the first half of the year, the CLA’s 292 inspectors conducted 41,891 inspections, a decrease of 3.6 percent from the same period of 2010. Those 292 inspectors were responsible for inspecting approximately 310,000 enterprises covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Law. Labor NGOs and academics argued that the labor inspection rate was far too low to serve as an effective deterrent against labor violations and unsafe working conditions, especially for labor in small and medium factories. Labor groups repeatedly urged the CLA to strengthen its inspection regime.
Regulations require intensified inspection and oversight of foreign labor brokerage companies. NGOs reported that some labor brokers and employers regularly collected high fees or loan payments from foreign workers, using debts incurred in the source country as a tool for involuntary servitude. At the end of July, there were 409,434 documented migrant workers in Taiwan; of these, 168,188 were from Indonesia, 80,620 from the Philippines, 71,457 from Thailand, and 89,164 from Vietnam. The CLA estimated there were 30,000 undocumented workers. NGOs asserted that foreign workers were often unwilling to report employer abuses for fear the employer would terminate the contract and deport them, leaving them unable to pay back debt accrued to brokers or others.
An employer may deduct only labor insurance fees, health insurance premiums, income taxes, and meal and lodging fees from the wages of a foreign worker. Violators face fines of NT$60,000 to NT$300,000 ($2,010 to $10,050) and loss of hiring privileges. Critics, however, complained that violations continued and that the CLA did not effectively enforce statutes and regulations intended to protect foreign laborers from unscrupulous brokers and employers.
The CLA operated a Foreign Worker Direct-Hire Service Center that allowed local employers to rehire their foreign employees, especially caregivers, without a broker. NGOs, however, argued that complicated procedures and restrictions on eligibility to use the service prevented widespread implementation, and they advocated lifting restrictions on transfers between employers.
The service center also permitted the direct rehiring of foreign workers engaged in manufacturing, fisheries, construction, and other industries. NGOs and academics urged the CLA to provide basic labor protections such as minimum wage, overtime, and a mandatory day off for household caregivers and domestic workers.
The National Immigration Agency is responsible for all immigration-related policies and procedures for foreign workers, foreign spouses, immigrant services, and repatriation of undocumented immigrants. The CLA is responsible for work permits and services related to occupation. The CLA also provides mediation services and may permit the transfer of employees in situations where the employee has suffered exploitation or abuse.
Except for victims of trafficking in persons or employer abuse, foreign workers deemed to have worked illegally faced heavy fines, mandatory repatriation, and a permanent ban on reentering Taiwan.