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Labour rights activists are calling for the government to crack down on employment agencies that illegally force foreign workers to borrow large sums of money before coming to Taiwan, according to the Taipei Times.
Wu Ching-ju, president of the Taiwan International Workers’ Association, commented to the Taipei Times: “Before, foreign workers had to pay a large placement fee to employment agencies, but as the Philippine government has banned placement fees in certain industries and Taiwan has put a cap of TWD I,000 (USD 33.37) per month on placement fees, employment agencies have found loopholes to extract money from workers.”
Commenting on the case of one Filipino worker, Wu said that before coming to Taiwan, the employment agency asked them to borrow PHP 80,000 (USD 1,832) from a loan firm and sign two promissory notes. The money was then handed to the employment agency. Once the worker was established in Taiwan they would have to repay the cash loan to a Taiwanese debt collection firm that was in possession of the second promissory note. Failure to pay would result in the worker being taken to court by the debt collection firm.
The de factor placement fee is illegal and could be considered tantamount to human trafficking under Taiwan’s laws. Also commenting to the Taipei Times, Anliko Jaw a Council of Labour Affairs official in charge of foreign worker affairs admitted that it was not easy to prevent this circumvention of the law. Disguised as a loan, the de facto placement fee is protected by the signed and legally binding promissory notes.
Jaw commented: “Of course it’s our job to protect workers’ rights, whether they are domestic or foreign workers, but it is really difficult for us to intervene since the debtors possess promissory notes signed by these foreign workers. When these problems are referred to the judiciary, it’s not possible for us to intervene.”
“What we can do now is notify the courts within 10 days, asking them that, if they encounter cases in which debtors with promissory notes are asking the court to issue repayment orders to foreign workers, they should be very careful, and should conduct a full investigation before issuing repayment orders, as such cases may involve cross-national human trafficking,” he continued.
Wu added: “If these were just isolated cases, it would probably not be a big problem, but if 90% of foreign workers in the country are in this situation, then the council [of labour affairs] needs to do something about it.”