Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct strikes, and bargain collectively. The law allows foreign workers to form and join unions and to serve as union officers. The law establishes three types of unions: enterprise unions, industrial unions, and professional unions. Enterprise unions are responsible for negotiating the immediate labor rights and entitlements of enterprise-level “collective agreements.” A minimum of 30 members is required to form an enterprise union; there may only be one union per enterprise. Employees in companies with fewer than 30 workers may only join a professional union or an industrial union to exercise their rights. This applied to approximately 78 percent of employees of small and medium sized enterprises. Industrial unions help to link workers in the same industry. Professional unions are geographically constrained within municipal boundaries.
The law prohibits discrimination, dismissal, or other unfair treatment of workers for union-related activities and requires reinstatement of workers fired for trade union activity. Employees hired through dispatching agencies (i.e., temporary workers) do not have the right to organize and bargain collectively in the enterprises where they work. In May the Labor Standards Act was modified to provide job security measures to, and identify the liability of enterprises and dispatching agencies for, temporary workers, particularly the responsibility for occupational injury and the presumption of indefinite and nontransferrable contract.
The right to strike remained highly regulated. Teachers, civil servants, and defense industry employees do not have the right to strike. Workers in industries such as utilities, hospital services, and telecommunication service providers are allowed to strike only if they maintain basic services during the strike. Authorities may prohibit, limit, or break up a strike during a disaster. For all workers, the law divides labor disputes into “rights disputes” and “adjustment disputes.” Workers are allowed to strike only in adjustment disputes, which include issues such as compensation and working schedules. The law forbids strikes in rights disputes related to violations of collective agreements and employment contracts.
The law requires mediation of labor disputes when authorities deem them sufficiently serious or involving unfair practices. Most labor disputes involved wage and severance issues. Local labor authorities were the usual venue to settle disputes by either mediation or arbitration, which is referred to as the alternative dispute resolution. Mediation, which accounted for 95 percent of all cases in 2018, provided a civil resolution and cost-effective way to reach a settlement, usually within 20 days. Arbitration, with legally binding obligations, generally took between 45 and 79 working days to finalize, which was often too lengthy for cases requiring urgent remedies. The law prohibits labor and management from conducting strikes or other acts of protest during conciliation or arbitration proceedings. Labor organizations said this prohibition impeded workers’ ability to exercise their right to strike.
The Ministry of Labor oversees implementation and enforcement of labor laws, in coordination with local labor affairs bureaus. Authorities effectively enforced laws providing for the freedom of association and collective bargaining. A labor ministry arbitration committee reviewed cases of enterprises using discriminatory or improper action to repress union leaders and their activities, and authorities subjected violators to fines or restoration of employee’s duties. Such fines, however, generally were not sufficient to deter violations, especially for financial sectors. Among 12 arbitrated cases with China Airlines as of October, six were appealed by the enterprise; two of them, with a restoration order, have yet to be complied with.
Large enterprises frequently made it more difficult for employees to organize an enterprise union by using such methods as blacklisting the union organizers from promotion or relocating them into other work divisions. These methods were particularly common in the technology sector. For example, there was only one enterprise union in the entire Hsinchu Science Park. With the exception of the banking industry, industrial unions were also underdeveloped.
Authorities encouraged collective bargaining agreements to provide better terms and conditions than the law stipulates. For example, the High-Speed Rail Trade Union successfully won back overtime payments through collective bargaining. The implementation of collective bargaining is still inconsistent. For example, after inspections, the Financial Supervisory Commission removed the chairpersons of certain financial holdings companies from their firms’ independent salary review committees.
Professional unions have grown more influential in collective bargaining. For example, the Taoyuan pilots’ professional union began a strike in February to win better safety provisions for pilots on “red-eye” routes. In August the Taoyuan flight attendants’ professional union went on strike on behalf of EVA Air flight attendants, which became Taiwan’s longest strike on record, lasting 17 days before reaching an agreement.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prescribes penalties for forced labor, and the government effectively enforced the law, but courts delivered light sentences or fines in most forced labor convictions. Such penalties were inadequate to serve as an effective deterrent. Authorities continued public-awareness campaigns, including disseminating worker-education pamphlets, operating foreign-worker hotlines, and offering Ministry of Education programs on labor trafficking as part of the broader human rights curriculum. According to the National Immigration Agency, 13 forced labor cases were opened, and a further five individuals were convicted in the first seven months of the year.
Labor laws do not cover domestic household workers, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. Forced labor occurred primarily in the domestic service, fishing, farming, manufacturing, and construction sectors. Foreign workers were most susceptible to forced labor, especially when serving as crew members on Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels. Some labor brokers charged foreign workers exorbitant recruitment fees and used debts incurred from these fees in the source country as tools of coercion to subject the workers to debt bondage (see section 7.e.). Authorities ordered six brokers convicted of illegal activities in 2018 to close; however, there was no legal prohibition against reopening a business through a proxy that registers as a new company. In November 2018 the Employment Services Act was modified to require brokers to report to law enforcement authorities within 24 hours if they learn of an employer mistreating a foreign worker. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations, although authorities sought to enforce the law.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits work by children younger than 15 years without approval from appropriate authorities after an evaluation of the nature of the work to be performed, the working environment, and other factors. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from doing heavy or hazardous work. Working hours for children are limited to eight hours per day, and children may not work overtime or on night shifts.
Authorities effectively enforced minimum age laws. Employers who violate minimum age laws face a prison sentence, fines, or both, which was sufficient to deter violations.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. The law prohibits potential employers from requesting medical reports from job candidates to prove they do not have HIV or other communicable diseases. The law forbids termination of employment because of pregnancy or marriage.
Workers who encounter discrimination can file complaints with two independent committees composed of scholars, experts, and officials in city and county departments of labor affairs. Local labor affairs bureaus are empowered to intervene and investigate discrimination complaints. Authorities enforced decisions made by those committees. Employers can appeal rulings to the Ministry of Labor and the Administrative Court.
Latest available statistics showed that among the 201 sex discrimination cases reported in 2017, the majority involved forced resignations due to pregnancy. 141 sexual harassment cases and 118 unfair treatment or work equality cases were reported the same year. Scholars said these numbers significantly understated the problem due to workers’ fear of retaliation from employers and difficulties in finding new employment if the worker has a history of making complaints.
Persons with “minor” disabilities who have not applied for proof of disability from the government are nonetheless protected against employment discrimination. The Ministry of Labor imposes fines of between NT$300,000 and NT$1.5 million ($9,770 and $48,900) on employers who discriminate against this category of disabled workers or job seekers.
The law requires 3 percent of the workforce in the public sector and 1 percent of the workforce in the private sector to be persons with disabilities. In 2018, 4.3 percent of the public sector workforce were persons with disabilities; the private sector continued to fall short of the regulated target. The unemployment rate for persons with disabilities was three times higher than that for persons without disabilities.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage is above the poverty line. 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 household workers.
The law stipulates an eight-hour workday and 40-hour work week and allows up to 54 hours per month overtime. The mandatory rest interval for shift work is eight hours in certain sectors, provoking health and safety concerns. The permissible number of consecutive working days is 12 in two weeks. Employees in the “authorized special categories” approved by the Ministry of Labor 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, hospital workers, media journalists, and public transport drivers.
Religious leaders continued to raise concerns the law did not guarantee a day off for domestic workers and caregivers, which limited their ability to attend religious services. This problem was particularly salient among the 235,000 foreign caregivers and household workers, predominantly from Indonesia and the Philippines, many of whom are Muslim or Christian and want to, or believe they must, attend religious services on a certain day of the week.
The law sets occupational safety and health standards that are appropriate for the main industries in the country. Employers are not subject to criminal charges if an employee is involved in a fatal accident due to unsafe working conditions. The freight and passenger transportation industries saw higher than average accident rates among drivers working overtime. Their employers often sought to transfer legal liability from the company to the driver.
Labor inspections conducted by local governments and specified agencies are regulated by the labor inspection law; but due to relatively weak enforcement, labor inspections often failed to serve as an effective deterrent against labor law violations and unsafe working conditions. Authorities can fine employers and withdraw their hiring privileges for violations of the law, and the law mandates publicizing the names of offending companies. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to deter violations.
The Ministry of Labor operated a Foreign Worker Direct Hire Service Center and an online platform to allow employers to hire foreign workers without using a broker. The Taiwan International Workers’ Association maintained, however, that red tape in the system continued to enable brokers to extract profits from foreign workers and prevented the Service Center from achieving widespread implementation. Regulations require inspection and oversight of foreign labor brokerage companies.
The Ministry of Labor may also permit foreign workers to transfer to new employers in cases of exploitation or abuse. Authorities also introduced several measures to reduce such exploitation. For example, authorities eliminated the requirement that foreign workers leave Taiwan every three years between re-employment contracts.
Taiwan authorities maintained a 24-hour toll-free “1955” hotline service in five languages (Mandarin, English, Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese) available for all foreign workers to obtain free legal advice, request urgent relocation and protection, report abuse by employers, file complaints about delayed salary payments, and make general inquiries. All cases reported are registered in the system for law enforcement to track and intervene if necessary. Among the 187,338 calls, the hotline helped 5,162 foreign workers to reclaim a total of NT$139 million ($4.53 million) in salary payments in 2018. Foreign workers’ associations maintained that in spite of the existence of the hotline and the authorities’ record of effective response, foreign workers often were reluctant 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.
The approximately 703,000 foreign workers, primarily from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, were vulnerable to exploitation. Foreign workers generally incurred significant debt burdens during the recruitment process due to excessive brokerage fees, guarantee deposits, and higher charges for flights and accommodations. Brokerage agencies, for example, often required their clients to take out loans for “training” and other fees at local branches of Taiwan banks in their home countries at high interest rates. Abuse was common in domestic service; there were several reports of employers raping foreign domestic helpers. In some instances, the victims were unable to leave until they paid off debts to employment brokers. Locally operated service centers, which briefed foreign workers on arrival, maintained a hotline for complaints and assistance and funded and operated shelters to protect abused workers. NGOs reported that the monthly take-home pay of some domestic workers was as low as 6.7 percent of the official poverty level.
Mistreatment and poor working conditions for foreign fishermen remained common. Foreign fishermen recruited offshore were not entitled to the same labor rights, wages, insurance, and pensions as those recruited locally. For example, the Control Yuan in 2018 issued a “correction verdict” to the Fisheries Agency and the Kaohsiung City Marine Bureau for their mismanagement and inaction when it became aware that the fishing vessel Fuh Sheng 11 subjected its Indonesian crewmembers to inhuman treatment.
Regulations only require a minimum monthly wage of $450 for foreign fishermen, significantly below the minimum wage on the island. Moreover, NGOs reported foreign fishing crews on Taiwan-flagged long-haul vessels generally received wages below $450 per month because of dubious deductions for administrative fees and deposits. Several NGOs, including the Taiwan International Workers Association, advocated abolishing the separate hiring system for foreign fishermen. In response the Fisheries Agency dispatched officers to the United States, Samoa, Mauritius, Fiji, Palau, South Africa (Cape Town), and Marshall Islands to monitor labor conditions on Taiwan-flagged long-haul fishing vessels when they dock at these ports. These officers used a multilingual questionnaire to interview foreign fishermen and examine labor conditions on board.