The Labor Standards Law provides for standards for working conditions and health and safety requirements. It applies to workers agriculture, forestry, fishery, and animal husbandry; mining and quarrying; manufacturing; mass communication; and other lines of business specified by the authorities. The minimum wage of NT$20,008 ($620) per month, or NT$120 ($3.72) per hour, took effect in July. There is no minimum wage for workers in categories not covered by the law, such as management employees, healthcare workers, gardeners, bodyguards, doctors, self-employed lawyers, civil servants, contractors for local authorities, and domestic workers. 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 ($458) per person in Taipei, NT$11,832 ($366) per person in New Taipei City, NT$11,890 ($368) per person in Kaohsiung, and NT$10,869 ($336) per person in all other areas.
On May 15, the Legislative Yuan passed an amendment to the Labor Standards Law stipulating new legal working hours of eight hours per day and 40 hours per week, reduced from the previous limit of eight hours per day and 84 hours biweekly. The new rule was scheduled to take effect January 1, 2016, and would affect 3.4 million workers, according to the MOL. Employees in “authorized special categories” approved by the ministry are exempt from regular working hours stipulated in the law. These categories include security guards, flight attendants, insurance salespersons, real estate agents, nursery school teachers, ambulance drivers, and hospital workers.
All workers under the Labor Standards Law are entitled to paid leave on recognized holidays and to a certain number of paid special leave days based on the number of years spent working for their employer. The law specifies that employees who work on national holidays should be paid double time and that workers who do not take their special leave should receive compensation.
In May the MOL issued an instruction requiring employees to include all offsite and remote computing hours in calculating their total regular hours worked. According to ministry estimates, more than 550,000 workers were subject to the new regulation, including those in sectors that rely on telecommunications (e.g., graphic design) and those who routinely conduct work outside the office (e.g., journalists, insurance and real estate brokers, and bus drivers). The MOL has stated that any additional work assigned to workers outside their shifts should be deemed overtime, regardless of how it was assigned, and that existing labor regulations were sufficient to address the problem.
Household caregivers and domestic workers are not protected under the Labor Standards Law and are not covered by a mandated minimum wage, overtime pay, limits on the workday or workweek, minimum breaks, or vacation regulations.
The Occupational Safety and Health Law sets health and safety standards. The law was amended in 2013 to expand coverage from workers in 15 categories to 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 for violations.
The Ministry of Labor increased the number of inspectors from 294 in 2013 to 370 as of the end of July, and also subsidized local authorities’ hiring of 325 contract inspectors during the year. Although the number of labor inspections decreased in the first half of the year from the same period last year, local authorities conducted 8,000 more inspections during the year than in the same period in the previous year. Labor NGOs and academics have stated that the number of inspectors and labor inspection rate were too low to serve as an effective deterrent against labor violations and unsafe working conditions, whereas the Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions said the situation had improved somewhat. The authorities can fine employers NT$300,000 ($9,290) for violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Law, and the law mandates that the names of offending companies be broadcast to the public.
Regulations require inspection and oversight of foreign labor brokerage companies. 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 MOL is responsible for occupation work permits and services and also provides mediation services. The MOL may also permit the transfer of employees when they have suffered exploitation or abuse.
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 ($1,860 to $9,290) and loss of hiring privileges. Critics, however, complained that violations continued and that MOL did not effectively enforce statutes and regulations intended to protect foreign laborers from unscrupulous brokers and employers.
The MOL operated a Foreign Worker Direct Hire Service Center and an online platform to allow employers to hire foreign workers without going through a broker. Caregivers and domestic workers, and workers in manufacturing, fisheries, construction, and other industries could be hired through the Center. Employers could also renew foreign workers’ employment contracts at the Center. During the year, the MOL reported that the Center had provided support to 110,000 foreign workers, saving them up to NT$4.6 billion ($142.4 million) in brokerage fee payments, since it began operating in 2008. NGOs asserted that complicated hiring procedures and the online service’s incompatibilities with certain recruitment systems in workers’ countries of origin prevented widespread implementation, and they advocated lifting restrictions on transfers between employers.
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 3.6 percent in 2014.
Violations of legal working hours were common in all sectors. A survey conducted by the Institute of Labor, Occupational Safety, and Health showed 78 percent of workers in the media industry worked on average more than 10 hours per day. An MOL inspection found that that working hours of pilots, bus drivers, and banking sector employees exceeded the legal limit. In a survey conducted by Yes123 Employment Service Co., 56 percent of employees reported that they had not received overtime pay for work exceeding their normal working hours. 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. In addition, the Taiwan Labor Front and Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions have cited labor dispatching (i.e., temporary worker) programs and employers’ use of instant-messaging applications to conduct business afterhours as factors undermining working conditions in Taiwan.
In September the legislature amended the Employment Service Law to allow foreign caregivers and maids to work in the country up to 14 (vice 12) years. This industry was largely controlled by brokerage agencies that hired workers overseas and acted as their representative in Taiwan. Brokerage agencies required workers to take out loans for “training” and other fees at local branches of Taiwan banks in their home countries at inflated interest rates. Domestic workers covered the full cost of their own health insurance.
Some employers of domestic workers did not pay them directly, but rather through the brokerage agencies. Agencies then deducted fees and loan repayments from the wages before paying the worker. In such cases, actual take-home pay for domestic workers could be far below the current poverty level, with NGOs reporting that the monthly take-home pay of some domestic workers was as low as 6.7 percent of the official poverty level. NGOs and academics urge the MOL to provide basic labor protections such as minimum wage, overtime, and a mandatory day off for household caregivers and domestic workers. In August, MOL reached an agreement with Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand to raise the wages of caregivers and domestic workers from NT$15,840 ($490) to NT$17,000 ($526). The agreement took effect on September 1 and applied only to workers entering new contracts or renewing contracts after three years of service.
Migrant workers, including those from Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand, were vulnerable to exploitation. 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 reimburse debt accrued to brokers or others.
In September, one Indonesian fisherman died and another went missing while working on the Kaohsiung-registered deep-sea fishing vessel Fu Si Chun. The Yilan County Fishermen’s Association accused the boat crew of abusing one fisherman to death and not making efforts to rescue the missing fisherman after he fell overboard. In response to the incident, the Yilan County Fishermen’s Association called for labor laws to be amended to protect workers hired overseas better. As of October the Pingtung District Prosecutor’s Office was investigating the death.