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. Teachers may form unions and federations. The law allows foreign workers to form and join unions and to serve as union officers. 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.
According to the law, there are 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. Industrial unions help to link workers in the same industry. Professional unions are geographically constrained within municipal boundaries.
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. Arbitration generally took between 45 and 79 working days to finalize, which was 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. Such fines, however, generally were not sufficient to deter violations. For example, before the acquisition of TC Bank with a strong enterprise union in December 2017, Yuanta-Polaris Bank established its own enterprise union in an attempt to outnumber those in TC Bank’s union. In July the Ministry of Labor ruled that this was an “unfair labor practice” in violation of the law. The bank would have to pay a negligible penalty of $968 to $4,840, creating a weak deterrence effect for future cases.
Labor union density (the percentage of labor registered in a union as a proportion of overall labor) in Taiwan remained low at 7.6 percent, significantly below the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average of 17 percent. Restrictions on the minimum number of employees needed to form a union disqualified the 78.2 percent of employees who work for small and medium sized enterprises from being able to unionize in enterprise level unions. Large enterprises frequently made it more difficult for employees to organize an enterprise union through methods such as blacklisting the union organizers from promotion eligibility 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.
Collective agreement was encouraged by the authorities to provide better terms and conditions than the law stipulates. For example, the High Speed Rail Trade Union successfully negotiated and took back their overtime payments through collective bargaining.
Professional unions have grown more influential in collective bargaining. For example, following the successful strike of the 2016 Taoyuan Flight Attendants professional union, in August the Taoyuan pilot professional union leveraged the threat of a possible strike in exchange for a one-year negotiation with both China Airlines and Eva Air for better treatment of pilots.
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, there were 25 cases of forced labor and only one individual was convicted for forced labor in the first six months of the year. In 2017 authorities established a workers’ protection taskforce under the Executive Yuan’s platform for preventing human trafficking (also see section 7.e.).
Labor laws do not cover domestic household workers, leaving them vulnerable to labor exploitation. Forced labor occurred in such sectors as domestic services, fishing, farming, manufacturing, and construction. 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.). In 2017 authorities investigated and concluded 121 cases of illegal brokerage activities but imposed only negligible penalties of NT$60,000 to NT$300,000 ($1,950 to $9,770) and did not file criminal charges. Authorities ordered 11 of these brokers to terminate business operations; however, there was no legal prohibition against reopening one’s businesses through a proxy that registers as a new company.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits work by children younger than 15 years without approval from the 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 years 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.
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 was sufficient to deter violations.
There were some reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).
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 complaints of employment discrimination. 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 214 sex discrimination cases reported in 2016, the majority were forced resignation due to pregnancies. There were 146 sexual harassment cases and 135 unfair treatment or work equality cases. 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.
Studies conducted by a women’s NGO and Cheers Magazine found women were promoted less frequently, occupied fewer management positions, and worked for lower pay than men. According to a survey by the Ministry of Finance, the median monthly income for women was NT$30,685 ($1,000), earning on average 77 percent of the amount their male counterparts earned in 2017.
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. As of March, 4.4 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
A new minimum wage of NT$23,109 ($758) per month, or NT$150 ($4.86) per hour, takes effect in January 2019, benefiting around 1.82 million domestic workers and 438,000 foreign workers. 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 Ministry of Health and Welfare 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$16,157 ($526) per person in Taipei, NT$14,385 ($469) per person in New Taipei City, NT$13,813 ($450) per person in Taichung, NT$12,941 ($421) per person in Kaohsiung, and NT$12,388 ($404) per person in all other areas.
A new amendment on working conditions came into force on March 1. Consistent with amendments passed in 2017, the new amendment stipulated working hours of eight hours per day and 40 hours per week, but it raised the overtime work limit from 46 hours per month to 54 hours per month. In addition, the new amendment reduced the mandatory rest interval for shift work from 11 hours to eight hours in certain sectors, provoking concerns over labor health and safety issues. The amendment likewise loosened the restriction on the number of consecutive working days from a maximum of six days in one week to 12 days in two weeks. These amendments were widely criticized by union members and academics as a step backwards in the regulated general labor conditions in Taiwan. Owners of small-to-medium sized enterprises, by contrast, generally praised the amendments for having introduced much-needed flexibility into the law. 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, and hospital workers.
Religious leaders continued to raise concerns that 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 231,000 foreign caregivers and household workers, predominantly from Indonesia and the Philippines, who include a number of Muslims and Christians who want to or believe they must attend religious services on a certain day of the week.
The law provides for occupational safety and health standards that are appropriate for the main industries in the country. Employers are not subject to criminal charges when their employees are involved in fatal accidents due to unsafe working conditions.
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 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. There were only 40,282 inspections in 2017, down 40 percent compared to 67,194 inspections in 2016. In particular, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under the Ministry of Labor, which has the most trained inspectors, reduced the number of inspections it conducted by 89 percent to only 1,578 in 2017. As a result, the inspection rate dropped below 10 percent of all companies.
Among the 8,324 cases of labor violations in 2017, authorities brought only seven to the district prosecutor’s office, and the rest received only nominal fines. A Control Yuan investigation report showed some inspectors worked 50 to 70 hours overtime per month but received only 20 hours of overtime pay. A shortage of inspectors and the ineffectiveness of inspections were deemed the primary causes of these 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 exploit 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’ 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.
The government 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 all other general inquiries. All reporting cases are registered in the system for law enforcement to track and intervene if necessary. The hotline helped 6,028 foreign workers to reclaim a total of NT$161 million ($5.24 million) in salary payments in 2017. Foreign workers’ associations maintained that in spite of the existence of the hotline and 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 600,000 foreign workers, primarily from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, were vulnerable to exploitation. 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. Locally 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. 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 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 issued a “correction verdict” to the Fisheries Agency and the Kaohsiung City Marine Bureau for their mismanagement and inaction when it became aware that 37 foreign fishing crews were living in a 645 square-foot shore house and were charged NT$300 ($9.77) per day to reside there.
It was widely reported that the operators of Taiwan’s fishing vessel Fuh Sheng 11 subjected their 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 that 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 Greenpeace and the Taiwan International Workers Association, advocated for the abolishment of a separate hiring system for foreign fishermen. In response, the Fisheries Agency dispatched six 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 residential officers used a multilingual questionnaire to interview foreign fishermen and examine their labor conditions on board.
The freight and passenger transportation industries saw higher than average accident rates among drivers working overtime. Their employers were not subject to criminal charges or required to pay compensation related to these incidents and often sought to transfer legal liability from the company to the employee. For example, Taoyuan Bus Company asked all drivers to sign preemptively a self-declaration of full liability for any traffic accident that occurs while they are driving, which raised questions about the legality of such a document.