The Labor Standards Law (LSL) provides standards for working conditions and health and safety precautions for an estimated eight million of 8.5 million salaried workers. The LSL specifically says that it applies 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, lawyers, civil servants, local government contract workers, employees of farmers’ associations, and domestic workers.
A 5.83 percent increase in the minimum wage to NT$19,047 ($644) per month, or NT$109 ($3.69) 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 0.3 percent to NT$45,888 ($1,553) in 2012. According to labor statistics, however, workers’ real wages were lower than they were 14 years ago due to weak economic performance and migration of manufacturing abroad. Authorities estimated the poverty income level to be 60 percent below the average disposable income of the median households in a designated area. By this definition the poverty income level was NT$14,794 ($500) per person in Taipei, NT$11,832 ($400) per person in New Taipei City, NT$10,244 ($346) per person in Taiwan Province, and NT$11,890 ($402) per person in Kaohsiung City.
Foreign 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 209,982 foreign household caregivers and domestic workers registered under the Employment Services Act. The caregiver and domestic worker industry, largely controlled by brokerage agencies that hired the workers in their home countries and acted as their representative in Taiwan, set an unregulated monthly wage of NT$15,840 ($536) for the industry (based on 1997 minimum wage standards). Domestic workers universally 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 domestic worker employees directly but rather paid the brokerage agency. Domestic workers were paid from the NT$15,840 ($536) received from the employer after the brokerage agencies deducted fees and any loan repayment contracts to which the domestic workers had agreed. This resulted in an actual take-home 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 ($34), or 6.7 percent of the official poverty level. NGOs and academics urged the CLA to provide basic labor protections such as minimum wage, overtime, and a mandatory day off for foreign household caregivers and domestic workers.
Legal working hours were eight hours per day and 84 hours per two-week period. The law mandated 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 CLA were 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 CLA exempted some medical personnel from authorized special categories. A survey of the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting, and Statistics pointed out that 1.1 million paid employees (or 13 percent of total paid employees) recorded 96 working hours biweekly in 2012. Annual overtime hours for these employees averaged 312 hours per person. 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 ($10,155) 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 the authorities to end the “authorized special category” system and strengthen inspection of employers.
The Occupational Safety and Health Law provides for standards for health and safety. The law was amended in July with the following changes: expansion of coverage from 6.7 million workers in 15 categories to 10.7 million employees in all industries; better protection for female and workers under age 18; prevention of overworking, imposition of higher safety standards on the petroleum and chemical industries; and imposition of higher penalty fines on violators.
Labor federations and NGOs have said that enforcement of the law continued to be a problem because the CLA has only 294 inspectors. In the first half of the year, the CLA’s 294 inspectors conducted 38,860 inspections, a decrease of 13.8 percent from the same period in 2012. 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. Labor NGOs pointed out that Taiwan’s inspector ratio was 0.27 inspectors per 100,000 workers, far below the international standard of 1.5 inspectors per 100,000 workers.
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, 465,481 documented migrants worked in Taiwan; of these, 205,520 were from Indonesia, 85,410 from the Philippines, 62,552 from Thailand, and 112,095 from Vietnam. At the end of June, a total of 38,629 undocumented foreigners worked in Taiwan. 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 2012 NGO report documented abusive conditions for migrant workers on Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels operating out of Singapore. The report claimed that employers provided the migrant workers, mostly Filipinos, substandard food and little medical care, forced workers to work 18-20 hours a day, and did not allow them to break their contracts without hefty penalties. In addition, the workers were not able to leave their posts because the ships stayed at sea for months at a time. During the year three cases of labor exploitation on Taiwan fishing vessels were reported by a Cambodian NGO and foreign governments alleging potential trafficking, abuse, and lack of payment of thousands of men from Southeast Asia. The alleged abuse remained under investigation at year’s end.
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 ($2,042 to $10,207) 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.
In addition to a CLA-operated Foreign Worker Direct-Hire Service Center that allows local employers to rehire their foreign employees, the CLA opened a direct-hire web platform to allow local employers to hire foreign workers online without having to go through a broker. NGOs, however, argued 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 duration of time in which 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 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 re-entering Taiwan.
According to data released by the Bureau of Labor Insurance, there were 16,071 cases of occupational injury or sickness during the first six months of 2013, down from 16,949 cases during the same period in 2012. There were 138 occupational deaths during this period, down from the 139 cases reported during the same period in 2012.