OFFICIALLY known as the Republic of China, Taiwan is one of our nearest neighbors in Southeast Asia. Flanked by mainland China on the west, Japan on the northeast and the Philippines on the south, the island nation (still considered a province by mainland China), is the largest economy of any state outside of the United Nations. A popular tourist destination, Taiwan boasts rich ecological sites, panoramic monuments, traditional temples and busy night markets.
Taiwan is also a favorite destination of our migrant workers. Due to its rapid industrialization, the island nation—dubbed as one of the so-called “Asian tigers”—has experienced a labor shortage problem, particularly in the manufacturing and construction sectors.
The lack of workers has been alleviated by allowing legal foreign guest workers (mainly Filipinos) into Taiwan. Currently, the island state is home to around 135,797 Filipino migrant workers. In 2016 alone, 18,399 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were deployed to Taiwan, as workers in the manufacturing, care-giving and fishing sectors.
So why Taiwan? We talked to “Tomas,” a factory worker for a manufacturing company in Taiwan. He says he initially planned to work in Saudi Arabia. “I changed my mind after realizing that the Middle East is almost half-way around the world. Then I learned about Taiwan from my relatives. I applied, and now I’ve been working here for six years already,” Tomas said.
Tomas compared his experience with his friends and neighbors who pursued their Saudi “dream,” many of whom ended up being laid off work after working for decades with the same company, and some who even had to avail of the on-going amnesty program in Saudi Arabia just to get home. “I’m happy with my decision to work in Taiwan. It’s not a walk-in-the-park but I am contented with it, or should I say, my family is contented with it,” he said.
The sentiment of Tomas is not really surprising since Taiwan is one of the countries with quite favorable policies and laws towards migrant laborers like our OFWs. For instance, most companies are required to provide labor insurance for their workers. According to Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act, a foreigner above 15 full years and below 65 years of age and employed in a company or firm that employs more than five workers must be covered by the labor insurance program. This is exactly the same national health insurance that native Taiwanese employees also enjoy.
The Taiwanese government has set a minimum wage for workers, foreign labor included. Also, normal working hours for workers should not exceed eight hours each day and the total working hours of every two-week period should not exceed 84 hours. Although employers may ask their workers to work overtime, they cannot be asked to work for more than 12 hours a day, including regular working hours, and the total overwork time should not exceed 46 hours each month.
Foreign workers who are not covered by the Labor Standards Act (like those employed in companies with less than five workers, domestic helpers, household caretakers, etc.), should be covered by a “labor contract,” which specifies their wages, working hours, leave and overtime work.
Dr. Gary Song–Huann Lin, Taiwan’s representative to the Philippines, has announced that, with the new Southbound Policy under their first woman president, Tsai Ing-Wen, cooperation and exchanges with Asean, including the Philippines, are targeted for enhancement. This includes ensuring that our OFWs in the island state are fairly treated and well protected by law.
According to Lin, Filipino migrant workers have greatly contributed towards the development and enhancement of Taiwan’s economy.
Although migrant workers in Taiwan are still covered by different rules, its more generous migrant labor policies are said to be the reason why Taiwan remains a destination of choice for many of our OFWs. That and the proximity of the island nation to the Philippines. Also, the workers incur minimal expenses (which means more savings for OFWs) as some factories offer free accommodation. Our migrant workers are also given higher overtime pay. And not to forget, public transportation is efficient and affordable. You can get from one point to another hassle-free, without being stuck in traffic.
It is no wonder then that, based on the data obtained by the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco) in Taiwan, the number of OFWs in the country increased by 10 percent from two years ago.
Lest I be misconstrued, allow me to say that labor migration to Taiwan is not without hiccups. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA)’s welfare officers in Taipei, Taichung and Kaoshiung handled 1,464 welfare cases last year, majority of which involved complaints about the excessive placement fees exacted by Philippine recruitment agencies. Of these, only around 120 cases involved labor and contractual concerns with employers, pointing to the Taiwanese government’s relatively even-handed treatment of foreign workers.
Nevertheless, to ensure that our distressed OFWs can be given immediate relief and protection, as instructed by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) and OWWA’s welfare officers maintain and manage a full-time shelter—known as the Migrant Workers Resource Center (MWRC).
However, the low number of wards currently staying in the MWRC can be attributed to the Taiwanese government’s 24-hour “Counseling and Protection Hotline for Foreign Workers,” which provides legal counseling services to migrant workers for free long before the problem escalates.
Taiwan’s migrant worker laws and policies ought to be given closer scrutiny because it can be used as a reference for the Philippines’ bilateral agreements with other labor-receiving countries, especially those in the Middle East.