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 prohibits discrimination, dismissal, or other unfair treatment of workers for union-related activities and requires reinstatement of workers fired for legal 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.
The Labor Incident Act, which entered into force in January, clearly defines labor disputes and establishes special labor courts in the judicial system to handle all labor cases, including collective disputes involving a union.
According to the law, there are three types of unions: enterprise unions, industrial unions, and professional unions. Enterprise unions must have 30 members to form and 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. Industrial unions link workers in the same industry. Professional unions must be within the geographic boundaries of local administrative divisions; membership across boundaries is prohibited.
The right to strike remained highly restricted. 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. Workers are allowed to strike only in “adjustment” disputes which include issues such as compensation and working schedules. The law forbids strikes related to rights guaranteed under the law.
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 often settle disputes through mediation or arbitration. Mediation usually resolved most cases within 20 days. Legally binding arbitration generally took between 45 and 79 working days. The law prohibits strikes or other acts of protest during conciliation or arbitration proceedings. Labor organizations stated this prohibition impeded workers’ ability to exercise their right to strike.
Through July the economic impact of COVID-19 increased labor dispute cases by 15 percent, particularly related to wage disputes and improper dismissals.
The Ministry of Labor oversees implementation and enforcement of labor laws in coordination with local labor affairs authorities. Authorities effectively enforced laws providing for the freedom of association and collective bargaining. Ministry arbitration committees reviewed cases of antiunion activities, and authorities subjected violators to fines or restoration of employee’s duties. Such fines were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.
Large enterprises frequently made it difficult for employees to organize an enterprise union through methods such as blacklisting union organizers from promotion or relocating them to other work divisions. These methods were particularly common in the technology sector. There was only one enterprise union among the 520 companies in Hsinchu Science Park, where more than 150,000 employees work. The authorities provide financial incentives to enterprise unions to encourage negotiation of “collective agreements” with employers that detail their employees’ immediate labor rights and entitlements.
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 authorities effectively enforced the law, but courts delivered light sentences or fines in most forced labor convictions. Such penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Authorities can terminate brokers’ business operations but did not do so as of October. There is no legal prohibition against reopening a business through a proxy that registers as a new company.
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. Forced labor occurred primarily in sectors reliant on migrant workers including domestic services, fishing, farming, manufacturing, meat processing, and construction. 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.).
Migrant fishermen reported senior crewmembers employ coercive tactics such as threats of physical violence, beatings, withholding of food and water, retention of identity documents, wage deductions, and noncontractual compulsory sharing of vessel operational costs to retain their labor. These abuses were particularly prevalent in Taiwan’s large distant-waters fishing fleet, which operated without adequate oversight (see section 7.e.).
The Employment Services Act requires labor brokers to report mistreatment such as withholding identification documents, restrictions on access to dorms or residences, and excessive work hours violating the general work conditions of foreign workers to law enforcement authorities within 24 hours. Penalties for not doing so include small fines. The Employment Services Act introduced a new article to prohibit brokers from specific acts against migrant workers, including sexual assault, human trafficking, or forced labor with penalties including modest fines and possible criminal charges.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law provides a minimum age for employment of 15, but has an exception for work by children younger than 15 if they have completed junior high school and the appropriate authorities have determined the work will not harm the child’s mental and physical health. 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. The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor.
County and city labor bureaus effectively enforced minimum age laws by ensuring the implementation of compulsory education. Employers who violate minimum age laws face a prison sentence, fines, or both, which were not commensurate with those of analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, age, and sexual orientation. 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. The law does not restrict women’s working hours, occupations, or tasks. The authorities effectively enforced the law and penalties were commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.
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 complaints of employment discrimination. Authorities enforced decisions made by those committees. Employers can appeal rulings to the Ministry of Labor and the administrative court.
The majority of sex discrimination cases reported in 2019 were forced resignations due to pregnancies. Scholars said sex discrimination remained significantly underreported due to workers’ fear of retaliation from employers and difficulties in finding new employment if the worker has a history of making complaints. According to a 2018 survey by the Ministry of Finance, the median monthly income for women was, on average, 87.5 percent of the amount their male counterparts earned.
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 2019, 4.3 percent of the public-sector workforce consisted of persons with disabilities; the private sector continued to fall short of the target. Companies with more than 67 employees failing to meet the target are potentially liable for small fines.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Ministry of Labor’s Basic Wage Committee sets a minimum wage that is adjusted annually. The minimum wage does not cover workers in categories not covered by the law, such as management employees, medical doctors and other healthcare workers, gardeners, bodyguards, self-employed lawyers, civil servants, contractors for local authorities, and domestic household workers. The minimum wage is above the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s poverty level, although foreign fishermen on vessels operating outside Taiwan’s territorial seas earned significantly below the national minimum wage, and NGOs reported that the monthly take-home pay of some domestic workers was as low as 6.7 percent below the official poverty level. Enacted in January, the Labor Incident Act clarified that employers, not workers, bear the burden of proof in wage and hour disputes.
Regular working hours are eight hours per day and 40 hours per week, with overtime limited to 54 hours per month. The law requires a mandatory rest interval for shift work of eight hours or longer in certain sectors and limits the number of working days to 12 days in a two-week period.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the labor laws in conjunction with the labor agencies of local governments. Employees in “authorized special categories” approved by the Ministry of Labor are exempt from regular working hours stipulated in the law. These include security guards, flight attendants, insurance salespersons, real estate agents, media journalists, public transport drivers, domestic workers, and caregivers. Penalties are not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. The ministry effectively enforced is minimum wage and overtime laws.
To respond to concerns from religious leaders that the law did not guarantee a day off for many of the 220,000 foreign caregivers and household workers who wished to attend religious services on a certain day of the week, in September 2019 authorities introduced a “respite care service” to provide substitute caregivers on a per-day basis. Ministry of Labor statistics show employers utilized 23,882 respite-care days in 2019.
The law provides for occupational safety and health standards that are appropriate for the main industries in the economy. A May 2019 Labor Standards Act amendment prescribes to enterprise and dispatching agencies responsibility for occupational injury of temporary workers. The authorities effectively enforced occupational safety and health standards. Workers can remove themselves from a situation that endangers their health and safety and report to their supervisor without jeopardizing their employment. Employers, however, can terminate the employment contract if they can prove the worker abused the right to suspend work and the competent authority has affirmed the employer was in compliance. Employers are subject to civil but not criminal charges when their employees are involved in fatal accidents due to unsafe working conditions. Penalties for violations of occupational safety and health standards were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. The freight and passenger transportation industries saw higher than average accident rates among drivers working overtime. Their employers often tried to make drivers rather than the companies liable for any accidents.
There were an insufficient number of inspectors for the number of workplaces to be inspected, despite the recruitment of additional 325 inspectors in 2019. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections. Authorities can fine employers and revoke their hiring privileges for violations of the law, and the law mandates publicizing the names of offending companies. Employers found to be in violation of labor laws during an inspection are not eligible for certain tax reductions or grants.
More than 700,000 foreign workers were employed, primarily from Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand; most were recruited through a labor broker. The Ministry of Labor is required to inspect and oversee the brokerage companies to ensure compliance. The ministry also operates a Foreign Worker Direct Hire Service Center and an online platform to allow employers to hire foreign workers without using a broker. Foreign workers may change employers in cases of exploitation or abuse.
The Taiwan International Workers’ Association complained, however, that bureaucratic red tape continued to enable brokers to extract profits from foreign workers and prevented the service center from being used more widely.
The Ministry of Labor maintained a 24-hour toll-free “1955” hotline service in six languages (Mandarin, English, Indonesian, Thai, Tagalog, and Vietnamese) where foreign workers can obtain free legal advice, request urgent relocation and protection, report abuse by employers, file complaints about delayed salary payments, and make other inquiries. All reporting cases are registered in a centralized database for law enforcement to track and intervene if necessary. Among the 186,014 calls in 2019, the hotline helped 5,322 foreign workers to reclaim a total of NT$179 million ($5.97 million) in salary payments.
Foreign workers’ associations maintained that, in spite of the existence of the hotline and authorities’ effective response record, foreign workers were often reluctant to report employer abuses for fear the employer would terminate their contract, subjecting them to possible deportation and leaving them unable to pay off their debt to recruiters.
Foreign workers generally faced exploitation and incurred significant debt burdens during the recruitment process due to excessive brokerage fees, guarantee deposits, and higher charges for flights and accommodations. Brokerage agencies often required workers to take out loans for “training” and other fees at local branches of Taiwan banks in their home countries at high interest rates, leaving them vulnerable to debt bondage. NGOs suggested the authorities should seek further international cooperation with labor-sending countries, particularly on oversight of transnational labor brokers.
Foreign fishermen were commonly subjected to mistreatment and poor working conditions. Domestic labor laws only apply to fishermen working on vessels operating within Taiwan’s territorial waters. Fishermen working on Taiwan-flagged vessels operating beyond Taiwan’s territorial waters (Taiwan’s distant-waters fishing fleet) were not afforded the same labor rights, wages, insurance, and pensions as those recruited to work within Taiwan’s territorial waters. For example, regulations only require a minimum monthly wage of $450 for these foreign fishermen in the distant water fleet, significantly below the domestic minimum wage. NGOs reported that foreign fishing crews in Taiwan’s distant-waters fishing fleet generally received wages below the required $450 per month because of dubious deductions for administrative fees and deposits.
Several NGOs, including Greenpeace and the Taiwan International Workers Association, advocated for the abolishment of this separate employment system, under which an estimated 35,000 migrant workers are employed in Taiwan’s distant-waters fishing fleet. The majority of these fishermen are recruited overseas, mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines. The United Kingdom-registered Environmental Justice Foundation conducted a survey between August 2018 and November 2019 and interviewed 71 Indonesian fishermen who had worked on 62 Taiwanese vessels. The results suggested that 24 percent of foreign fishermen suffered violent physical abuse; 92 percent experienced unlawful wage withholding; 82 percent worked overtime excessively. There were also reports fishing crew members could face hunger and dehydration and have been prevented from leaving their vessels or terminating their employment contracts.
The Fisheries Agency has officers in American Samoa, Mauritius, Fiji, Palau, South Africa, and the Marshall Islands since 2007 as well as inspectors in some domestic ports to monitor and inspect docked Taiwan-flagged long-haul fishing vessels. These Taiwan officials used a multilingual questionnaire to interview foreign fishermen and examine their labor conditions on board. The Fisheries Agency acknowledged they need further capacity building as they can currently conduct labor inspections of only 400 vessels per year.