A new minimum wage of NT$20,008 ($632) per month, or NT$120 ($3.79) per hour, took effect in July 2015. In September MOL decided to increase the minimum wage by 5 percent to NT$21,009 ($664), effective January 2017. There is no minimum wage for workers in categories not covered by the law, such as management employees, medical doctors, healthcare workers, gardeners, bodyguards, 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 household in a designated area. By this definition, the poverty level was a disposable monthly income of NT$14,794 ($468) per person in Taipei, NT$12,439 ($393) per person in New Taipei City, NT$11,890 ($376) per person in Kaohsiung, and NT$10,869 ($344) per person in all other areas. The average manufacturing wage was more than double the legal minimum wage, and the average wage for service industry employees was even higher.
An amendment to the Labor Standards Law stipulated new legal working hours of eight hours per day and 40 hours per week, and reduced from the previous limit of eight hours per day and 84 hours biweekly. The new rule took effect on January 1, and affected 3.4 million workers, according to the labor ministry. 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.
In December the legislature passed amendments to the Labor Standards Law guaranteeing private sector laborers the right to one day off and one day of flexible annual leave per week. The amendment also reduced the number of official public holidays to which certain categories of employees are entitled from 19 to 12, increased overtime pay and annual leave benefits, established whistle-blower protections for reporting labor violations, and tightened enforcement of existing labor rights provisions by increasing fines for non-compliance. Industry strongly protested these changes, while labor supporters staged hunger strikes arguing the changes did not go far enough.
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 the face of a growing digital economy, MOL issued an instruction in May 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 stated that any additional work assigned to workers outside their shifts should be considered overtime, regardless of how the work was assigned, and that existing labor regulations and penalties of NT$20,000 ($632) to NT$300,000 ($9,480) were sufficient to address the problem.
Taiwan has a mechanism for reporting labor exploitation and labor disputes. It operated service centers to brief foreign workers on arrival, maintained a hotline for complaints and assistance, and funded and operated shelters to protect abused workers. 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. MOL is responsible for occupation work permits and services and provides mediation services. The ministry may also permit foreign workers’ transfer to new employers in cases of exploitation or abuse.
Authorities did not always effectively enforce the law. Violations of legal working hours were common in all sectors. The labor ministry’s 2015 labor inspection report found that 30 percent of inspected firms violated the Labor Standards Law. Many companies either asked workers to exceed the overtime ceiling or failed to pay the required overtime. Logistics and transportation services had the most serious violations, according to the report. A 2015 survey by the Labor Bureau of Taipei City government on the banking industry showed 69 percent of employees in this industry worked hours in excess of the legal limit. A 2015 MOL inspection found that average working hours of pilots, train drivers, bus drivers, and media sector employees also exceeded the legal limit. As a result, employees worked on average 2,134 hours in 2015. In a survey conducted in April 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 Labor Front and Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions cited labor dispatching (i.e., temporary worker) programs and employers’ use of instant-messaging applications to conduct business after hours as factors undermining working conditions.
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. Brokerage agencies that hire workers overseas and act as their “representatives” in Taiwan largely controlled this industry. Brokerage agencies often require workers to take out loans for “training” and other fees at local branches of Taiwan banks in their home countries at high interest rates. Agencies then deduct fees and loan repayments from the workers’ wages. In such cases, actual take-home pay for domestic workers could be far below the current poverty level. NGOs reported that the monthly take-home pay of some domestic workers was as low as 6.7 percent of the official poverty level. Domestic workers often covered the full cost of their own health insurance.
The approximately 600,000 foreign workers, primarily 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 during the recruitment process.
In October the legislature passed an amendment to the Employment Service Act eliminating the requirement that foreign workers leave Taiwan every three years between re-employment contracts. Advocates for this amendment said it would help alleviate the burden of brokerage and other fees foreign workers have to pay. The law took effect on November 5.
MOL operated a Foreign Worker Direct Hire Service Center (DHSC) and an online platform to allow employers to hire foreign workers without using a broker. Caregivers, domestic workers, and workers in manufacturing, fisheries, construction, and other industries could be hired through the DHSC. Employers could also renew foreign workers’ employment contracts at the DHSC. As of the end of June, MOL reported that the DHSC had provided support to 142,010 foreign workers, saving them up to NT$6 billion ($189.6 million) in brokerage and service-fee payments, since it began operating in 2008. NGOs said 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 foreign workers voluntarily transferring their contracts to different employers.
There were numerous reports of exploitation and poor working conditions of foreign fishing crews on Taiwan-flagged long-haul vessels. In an interview with Greenpeace Taiwan, one foreign fishing boat crewmember said he sometimes worked more than 18 hours a day with poor food and living conditions. The Taiwan International Workers’ Association and other civil groups urged the Taiwan authorities and ship owners to better protect foreign fishermen. In May the Kaohsiung Prosecutor’s Office arrested 11 people, including four fishing boat owners, on charges of violating Taiwan’s human trafficking prevention law and obstructing freedom for allegedly confining 81 fishing boat crewmen from Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Tanzania, and Mozambique in two locations in Kaohsiung. In one location, more than 10 workers slept on the floor in a jam-packed room, while in the other, up to 60 workers lived in a space of 710 square feet without air conditioning. The Kaohsiung court released all 11 suspects on bail ranging from NT$30,000 ($948) to NT$100,000 ($3,160), and the investigation continued as of November.
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 labor inspectors from 370 in 2015 to 437 as of the end of July, and also subsidized local authorities’ hiring of 325 contract inspectors during the year. The number of labor inspections, including safety and health inspections and working term inspections, by MOL increased by 18 percent in the first half of 2016 compared with the same period in the previous year. NGOs and academics have stated that the number of inspectors and labor inspection rate were still too low to serve as an effective deterrent against labor violations and unsafe working conditions, although the Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions said the situation had improved somewhat. Authorities can fine employers NT$60,000 ($1,896) to NT$300,000 ($9,480) and withdraw their hiring privileges for violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Law, and the law mandates that the names of offending companies be broadcast to the public. Critics complained that violations continued and that MOL did not effectively enforce statutes and regulations intended to protect foreign laborers from unscrupulous brokers and employers.