On January 21, the Ministry of Labor announced its decision to temporarily withhold the modified draft of the Employment Service Pact, which aims to lower thresholds for foreign talent to legally work in Taiwan. The proposed changes would have allowed for more foreign lower-tiered white collar workers to enter Taiwan’s workforce.

The plan of lowering the threshold has been strongly opposed by Taiwanese labor groups, as they fear that allowing more foreign white collar laborers in Taiwan will endanger the already vulnerable youth labor population.

Meanwhile, Forward Taiwan, a group pushing for liberalized immigration reform for small businesses to hire and retain foreign talent, expressed disappointment at the news on its Facebook page.

The original plan, which was announced by the Ministry of Labor on December 25 last year, modifies the evaluation standard of foreigners eligibility to legally work in Taiwan. Some of the most significant changes include eliminating the NT$47,971 minimum monthly wage requirement, and eliminating the minimum work experience requirements.

It also planned to cancel the cap on the number of job opportunities open to foreign students upon graduation. Finally, the ministry wanted to introduce a second evaluation system that adopts point accumulation, rather than just judging based on several criteria.

According to statistics, the past number of foreign white collar laborers remains between 26,000 to 29,000, and since there is a minimum wage requirement, it has limited impact on entry level laborers. However, with the number of Taiwanese working overseas reaching nearly 2 million, the Ministry of Labor estimates that Taiwan’s labor structure will soon feel the negative impact of loss of local labor.

As a result, the Ministry says that the modification to the Employment Service Pact is a way to attract more foreign white collar labors to stay and fill in the void within the labor structure. The hopes is to keep around 3,000 additional foreign white collar laborers in Taiwan annually through the new Employment Service Pact. The ministry originally planned to evaluate the modifications in a meeting on the 22nd, but a change of plans to postpone the announcement of launching the new pact was made on the same day at noon.

DPP legislator Kuan Bi-Ling (管碧玲) said that the modified draft was not passed because the Workforce Development Agency still needed to continue collecting data and keep negotiating. According to the China Times, the head of Workforce Development Agency, Liu Chia-chun (劉佳鈞), said that he would continue to discuss with different parties in society, but if there is a shared concern about the point accumulation system, the ministry will have no choice but to shelf the plan and return to the original one track mechanism.

Inability to solve the youth poverty problem and the loss of local labor

Opponents of the modified draft mostly argued that the modified draft is a disguised plan to help large corporations lower labor costs, and will only worsen the already serious youth poverty problem. Additionally, they believe the proposed lower salary requirement in the draft will attract many youth from South East Asian countries and drive down wages within Taiwan.

In the long run, critics argue that the draft will not stem the outflow of Taiwanese talent. Lai Chung-chiang (賴中強), the outspoken attorney fighting against trade agreements with China and other economic issues, said that the plan would create serious competition for local young people’s job opportunities. On top of that, loosening the requirements will play into the hands of employers who wish to maintain the current low salary structures. So far, several of the newly elected legislators, including the New Power Party (NPP) caucus, have publicly spoken out against the modified draft.

Foreign labors as replacements and supplements

According to the Journalist, one small island nation that relies heavily on foreign labor is Singapore. Singaporean policy divides foreign labors into two categories: workers for replacement purposes and workers for supplement purposes. Normally, white collar foreign labor will be considered the replacement type of labor, because they can replace local laborers with their expertise and skill. On the other hand, blue collar foreign labors are mostly considered the supplement type of labor because they fill in the vacant jobs that Singaporeans are unwilling to take.

Foreign talent and workers has played an important role in Singapore’s economic development, but in recent years, the Singaporean government has also started to modify its labor policy. In February of 2013, Singapore began to restrict on the number of foreign laborers for service industries. This has caused wages to rise, but also correlates with some foreign companies moving away from Singapore.

(Feature photo of Taipei Metro, from Wikicommons)

 

William Yang

William is a freelance writer and photographer based in Taiwan, with a passion for human rights and storytelling. He holds a Master of Journalism degree from Temple University, and has extensive experiences interning at global NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Mercy Corps.