Migrant workers deserve fair pay too

The government has repeatedly shown its limited regard for migrant workers employed as domestic staff and caregivers, yet it takes umbrage because the governments of other nations have taken steps to protect their citizens in the nation.

The Ministry of Labor on Tuesday asked Indonesia and the Philippines to suspend a minimum wage rule they set for their citizens working in Taiwan, after they raised it from NT$15,840 to NT$17,500 on Wednesday last week.

That date, coincidentally, was the same day that a new minimum wage took effect in Taiwan: NT$20,008, an increase of NT$735.

The ministry’s complaint is threefold: the actions by Manila and Jakarta “seriously affected the rights of employers”; the government has not yet reached a consensus on raising the minimum wage for migrant domestic workers; and if the food and lodging employers are required to provide is taken into account, their pay would be close to the minimum wage.

Such defensiveness is spurious.

First, the rights of employers are not affected, because if they do not want to pay the wage demanded by Manila and Jakarta, they do not have to hire Filipinos or Indonesians.

Second, the government has been dragging its feet on raising the minimum wage for migrant workers in the industry, as well as that of other categories of migrant workers. If anything, it continually looks for ways to reduce the amount employers are required to pay, such as suggesting that a nationwide minimum wage be scrapped and that it not apply to proposed special economic zones set up for Taiwanese businesses returning from China.

Third, the difference between a migrant domestic worker’s monthly pay and the monthly minimum wage is NT$4,168, which divided by an average of 30 days per month works out to the princely sum of NT$139 per day. This is what the ministry would have people believe employers are spending on food and board for migrant caregivers and domestic workers.

Given that migrants in the industry are almost always required to live with their employers, the cost of providing a roof over their heads is not coming out of a family’s pocket.
The ministry ignores the elephant in the room, which is that foreign workers are not paid the national minimum wage because they are not protected by the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法).

Far too many of the migrants in the industry have told similar stories of being forced to work 14 hours or more a day, working weeks or months without days off, and rarely getting any annual leave. That means even if they were paid the national minimum wage, they would still not receive just recompense.

The Council of Labor, before it was upgraded to a ministry, was always more concerned with employers’ needs, wants and “rights” than those of the working class. Nothing has changed since it received a grander title. Unless, of course, it is an election year.

In March, some Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers — with an eye on January’s legislative and presidential elections — proposed raising the minimum wage to NT$22,000 or NT$24,000.

Minister of Labor Chen Hsiung-wen (陳雄文) said at the time that he thought there was room to raise the minimum wage beyond the NT$20,008 that took effect at the beginning of this month, given the forecast for GDP growth.

It is time Chen and the ministry were as generous with the migrant workers who have become an indispensable part of the economy.

Taipei Times