The law provides standards for working conditions and health and safety precautions for an estimated eight million of Taiwan’s 8.7 million salaried workers. The law applies only to workers in eight categories, including agriculture, forestry, fishery, and animal husbandry; mining and quarrying; manufacturing; construction; water, electricity, and gas supply; transportation, warehousing, and telecommunications; mass communication; and other lines of business as may be designated by the central competent authority. Those not covered include management employees, health care workers, gardeners, bodyguards, teachers, doctors, self-employed lawyers, civil servants, local government contract workers, employees of farmers’ associations, and domestic workers.
A 1.2 percent increase in the minimum wage to NT$19,273 ($622) per month, or NT$115 ($3.70) per hour, took effect in January. There is no minimum wage for workers in categories not covered by the law.
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 0.2 percent to NT$45,664 ($1,470) in 2013. According to Directorate General of Budget, Accounting, and Statistics data, workers’ real wages were at a 15-year low. According to a Ministry of Science and Technology report, between 10,000 and 20,000 white-collar workers or skilled experts left Taiwan to work abroad every year. Authorities defined the poverty level as 60 percent below the average monthly disposable income of the median households in a designated area. By this definition the poverty level was NT$14,794 ($480) per person in Taipei, NT$11,832 ($380) per person in New Taipei City, NT$10,869 ($350) per person in Taiwan Province, and NT$11,890 ($380) per person in Kaohsiung City.
Household caregivers and domestic workers did not enjoy a minimum wage or overtime pay, limits on the workday or workweek, minimum breaks, or vacation time. As of the end of July, there were 214,632 foreign household caregivers and domestic workers registered under the Employment Services Act. The caregiver and domestic worker industry, largely controlled by brokerage agencies that hire workers in their home countries and act as their representative in Taiwan, set an unregulated monthly wage of NT$15,840 ($510) for the industry (based on 1997 minimum wage standards). All domestic workers were forced by brokerage agencies to take out loans for “training fees,” “broker fees,” and other fees at local branches of Taiwan banks in their home countries at inflated interest rates (18 percent). Domestic workers covered the full cost of their own health insurance.
Employers of domestic workers did not pay them directly, but rather through the brokerage agency. Agencies then deducted fees and loan repayments from the NT$15,840 ($510) paid by the employer before paying the employee. This resulted in an actual take-home pay for domestic workers far below the current poverty level, with NGOs reporting that the monthly take-home pay of some domestic workers was as low as NT$1,000 ($32), or 6.7 percent of the official poverty level. NGOs and academics urged the Ministry of Labor to provide basic labor protections--such as minimum wage, overtime, and a mandatory day off--for household caregivers and domestic workers.
Legal working hours were eight hours per day and 84 hours per two-week period. The law mandates a five-day workweek for the public sector, and more than half of private-sector enterprises also implemented a five-day workweek. According to local labor laws, only employees in “authorized special categories” approved by the Ministry of Labor are exempt from regular working hours stipulated in the law. These categories include flight attendants, insurance salespersons, real estate agents, nursery school teachers, ambulance drivers, and hospital workers. In 2012 the ministry eliminated some medical personnel from authorized special categories but kept the exemption for other categories. In addition to these exemptions, the Taiwan Labor Front and Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions have cited labor dispatching (i.e., temporary worker) programs and instant-messaging applications as factors undermining working conditions in Taiwan. In June the Taipei City government ruled that a worker at a public relations company had died from overwork because she frequently received late-night tasks from her supervisor through instant-messaging applications.
The Ministry of Labor has stated that any additional work assigned to workers outside their shifts should be deemed overtime, regardless of the method through which it is assigned, and that existing labor regulations are sufficient to address the problem. Violation of legal working hours was common in all working sectors. Furthermore, most employees received no overtime pay for their overtime hours. The law stipulates a fine of NT$300,000 ($9,700) for violations and mandates that the names of the offending companies be broadcast to the public. The Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions and other labor groups called on authorities to end the “authorized special category” system, to enact a law to limit the use of labor dispatching, to strengthen inspection of employers, and to raise fines on violators.
The Occupational Safety and Health Law sets health and safety standards. The law was amended in 2013 to expand coverage from 6.7 million workers in 15 categories to 11.0 million employees in all industries; better protect female workers and those under age 18; prevent overworking; impose higher safety standards on the petroleum and chemical industries; and impose higher fines on violators.
Labor federations and NGOs have stated in the past that enforcement of the law continued to be a problem, in part because of insufficient numbers of labor inspectors. In response the Ministry of Labor increased the number of inspectors to 375 as of the end of July, up from 294 in 2013. In the first half of the year, ministry inspectors conducted 40,205 inspections, an increase of 3.5 percent over the same period in 2013. Labor NGOs and academics continued to claim that the labor inspection rate was too low to serve as an effective deterrent against labor violations and unsafe working conditions, although the Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions stated that the situation had improved somewhat.
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 June, 517,187 documented migrants worked in Taiwan; of these, 222,571 were from Indonesia, 100,203 from the Philippines, 59,806 from Thailand, and 134,600 from Vietnam. At the end of May, a total of 43,772 undocumented foreigners were working in Taiwan, according to National Immigration Agency statistics. NGOs asserted that foreign workers often were 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.
A June BBC report quoted migrant fisherman and NGOs describing exploitative conditions aboard Taiwan-owned fishing vessels. According to this report, in April a Cambodian court sentenced the manager of the Taiwan fishing company Giant Ocean and five associates to 10 years in prison and ordered them to pay compensation to 150 victims. On August 14, Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Kor Vandy affirmed the sentence and ordered the offenders to pay compensation to 180 victims.
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 ($1,940 to $9,700) and loss of hiring privileges. Critics, however, complained that violations continued and that the Ministry of Labor did not effectively enforce statutes and regulations intended to protect foreign laborers from unscrupulous brokers and employers.
In addition to a Ministry of Labor-operated Foreign Worker Direct-Hire Service Center that allowed local employers to rehire their foreign employees, the ministry operated a direct-hire web platform to allow local employers to hire foreign workers online without having to go through a broker. NGOs, however, asserted that complicated procedures and restrictions on use of both the Service Center and the online service prevented widespread implementation, and they advocated lifting restrictions on transfers between employers. The maximum time foreign workers were allowed to stay in Taiwan was 12 years.
The service center also permitted the direct rehiring of foreign workers engaged in manufacturing, fisheries, construction, and other industries.
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 Ministry of Labor is responsible for work permits and services related to occupation and also provides mediation services. The ministry may permit the transfer of an employee when s/he has suffered exploitation or abuse.
Except for victims of trafficking or employer abuse, foreign workers deemed to have worked illegally faced heavy fines, mandatory repatriation, and a permanent ban on re-entering Taiwan.
According to data released by the Bureau of Labor Insurance, there were 13,236 cases of occupational injury or sickness during the first five months of the year, down from 14,787 cases during the same period in 2013. There were 105 occupational deaths during this period, down from the 117 cases reported during the same period in 2013.