Rights activists highlight foreign laborers' plight

CNA, Taipei Times, Thursday 26 November 2003, Page 2

Human rights groups say the problem of absconding foreign laborers should be solved from the ground up, with legislation to guarantee their rights.

TAIPEI—Several human rights groups urged the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) yesterday to solve the problem of runaway foreign laborers from the ground up.

The groups, including the Labor Rights Association, the Taiwan Migrants' Forum and the International Action and Cooperation Team (IACT), noted that the majority of absconding foreign laborers run away from their jobs because of unfair treatment they receive at work. The council's crackdowns on foreign laborers who are on the run is no way to solve the problem, they said.

An intensive nationwide search for runaway foreign laborers started on Sept. 1. The CLA and the National Police Administration joined forces with city and county governments in the manhunt.

Foreign workers absconding from their jobs is a perennial problem, the groups said, adding that the workers often run away to escape miserable working conditions imposed by their employers and unscrupulous brokerage houses.

When foreign laborers try to call attention to the bad behavior of their employers and brokerage houses, they do not have recourse to a fair and effective mechanism to protect their rights, so that they face the possible consequence of losing their jobs.

Because most foreign laborers are afraid of losing their jobs and deportation after their appeals fail, many of them end up being forced to work illegally in jobs that pay even less and where working conditions are even tougher.

IACT officials said statistics show that foreign laborers rarely run away after completing their contracts in Taiwan and that the majority of them flee because of maltreatment they receive at work. The government should think about the solution from this perspective, they said.

The Labor Rights Association urged the CLA to review the channels and mechanisms for resolving disputes between foreign laborers and their employers, improve the proceedings and conditions of foreign laborers changing to other employers, map out a household service law, and regulate the contracts signed by foreign maids and caregivers to protect their human rights.

According to the latest council tallies, Taiwan has imported some 300,000 foreign laborers, more than 10,000 of whom have fled their jobs and remain unaccounted for.

The authorities have urged residents to report runaway foreign laborers and local employers are also urged to refrain from hiring runaway foreign laborers, or face a fine of at least NT$150,000.