What is NFESA trying to do to domestic workers under the COVID-19 pandemic?

We got two pictures from a caretaker, and she got it from her broker. It is an official letter issued on January 19 from the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) in reply to the National Federation of Employment Service Association (NFESA) for their earlier request. 

It seems some brokers are starting to send the letters to the migrant workers who want to transfer to the factory and apparently can’t understand the written Chinese at all and give them some misleading and wrong explanation of the letter, and so it has been a confusion to some migrant workers already. I think it is absolutely necessary to clarify the contents of the letter to all migrant workers who might get the same messages and pictures from their brokers.

In the letter, we know that NFESA wrote a letter to CECC on January 11 and requested the latter to stop the cross-category transfer for the domestic caretakers during the pandemic period. 

Interestingly, CECC refused straightforwardly on January 19, which is only 8 days from the day NFESA issued their letter. 

The letter is long, here I only quote the section which is the most relevant to the topic: “regarding your suggestion to stop the cross-category transfer for the domestic caretakers who did not finish their contract temporarily during the pandemic period, it is relevant to the rights to hire workers for the employer, the protection on the rights to work for the migrant workers, and also the legality, so the present regulation and transfer process shall be maintained as the regulation mentioned above and to be reviewed harder, so to be complied with the real situation” (…至於建議防疫期間暫停受理原聘僱許可期限尚未期滿之家庭看護工跨業別轉換作業一事,因涉雇主用人權益、移工工作權保障及適法性,爰應維持現行規定及轉換作業程序,仍依其前開規定並加強審查,俾以符合實際現況)

I put my explanation, reading, understanding and elaboration as below for all migrant workers for better understanding and clarification about the said official letter from CECC as below:

  1. What is “cross-category transfer”? In Taiwan, if a migrant worker needs to transfer, they can only transfer to the same category of job usually, but there are exceptions when the workers can transfer to another category of work (for example: from domestic caretaker to factory worker, or from fisherman to factory worker):
    • The Ministry of Labor (MOL) allows migrant workers to transfer to other categories if the worker  was identified as a victim from human trafficking, or when the worker has been sexually abuse (sexual harassment or rape) or physically attacked if the victims apply. MOL will send an official letter to the worker and approve the cross-category transfer literally and clearly. This is what we called the “cross-category transfer” (跨業別轉換). Usually we also call it “cross-border transfer”.
    • Even without the MOL’s approval for cross-category transfer, factories can also hire migrant workers from other categories (for example, domestic caretakers and fishermen) by using the job offers of the first or second priority. This is too technical, all we need to know is that there are different kinds of job offers from MOL, and the employer can hire workers from other categories if the job offer is of the first or the second priority. 
    • Since it is hard for migrant workers to come from abroad, it is understandable that more factories would hire the migrants who are waiting to transfer, including domestic workers and fishermen who qualify their interview and fit their needs. 
  1. NFESA wrote to CECC on January 11 and requested to stop the cross-category transfer temporarily during the pandemic period.
  1. CECC refused NFESA’s request for the benefits of both of the employers (the new employers who might hire the migrant workers) and migrant workers, as well as legality. 
    • The highlight on the legality is interesting: it means CECC knows it clearly that it is illegal to ban it even temporarily, so it would be a violation to the law if it approve NFESA’s request.
    • It might be a bit disappointing to CECC also mentioned that the review of the application of cross-category transfer shall be strengthened. But according to the present regulation, only the migrant workers who has been sexually harassed, raped, attacked physically, or when they have been identified as victims for human trafficking can apply for cross-category transfer, it is already hard enough. It would be a scandal if the Ministry of Labor (MOL) rejected any of the applications for cross-category transfer from the victims of human trafficking, sexual harassment, rape or physical violence, especially it is clearly stipulated in the law and regulation.
    • Also interestingly, even NFESA was writing to CECC as a command center and platform combatting any issues relevant to COVID-19, the officer in charge of this letter is still from MOL. Maybe NFESA wanted to bypass MOL and request CECC to approve the ban, but eventually it was still handled by an MOL officer according to the regulation managed by MOL. NFESA’s possible purpose to use CECC to fulfil their ban was failed.
  1. Why did NFESA write the letter to CECC?
    • As CECC mentioned in length for the regulation how the migrant workers can apply for cross-category transfer, I assume NFESA was complaining to CECC about the constant request from the domestic caretakers to transfer to the factory, since there are quite a lot job offers from the factories for there are very few migrant workers are able to come to Taiwan now.
    • So I made a wild but reasonable guess: what NFESA wants to request is not only the temporary ban the formal application of cross-category transfer, but a temporary ban for any factory to hire any domestic caretaker, so no caretaker can dream of transfer to a factory anymore, at least during the pandemic. But actually they can’t do that, or maybe they really did in their letter to CECC, anyway what we can see is the reply from CECC which shows clearly for the request for a temporary ban on cross-category transfer.
  1. Why NFESA can’t request for the total temporary ban for all factories to hire any domestic caretaker?
    • Since the border control is getting stricter, it’s harder and harder to hire any migrant worker from abroad now. There is already a shortage of migrant workers in many factories. This is totally beyond the control of the NFESA, or brokers.
    • As mentioned earlier, factories can hire domestic workers and fishermen if the job offer is of the first or the second priority. Since there are very few migrant workers can come now, not to mention the expenses of quarantine and the risks of transmission, it is natural for both the employers and brokers to hire more workers who are waiting to transfer, including the domestic workers and fishermen. It is not only beyond the control of the brokers, many brokers themselves are usually facilitating it for their clients in the manufacturing sector.
    • In brief, it is totally legal for factories to hire domestic workers or fishermen, as long as they have the job offer with the first or second priority. It is absolutely groundless, misleading and cheating if a broker tells a domestic caretaker that she is not allowed to transfer to the factory.
  1. So why do the domestic caretakers want to transfer to the factory?
    • The contrast on the working and living condition between the domestic caretakers and factory workers is tremendously huge: while the factory workers are covered by the Labor Standard Act (LSA) with the minimum wage (NTD24,000 since January 1), labor insurance, clearer working hours,  days-off, their own dormitory, they can also have their own peer groups, the domestic caretakers are excluded from with only NTD17,000 for years, no mandatory days-off, no regulation on the working hours and so no extra overtime for the excessive long working hours, no labor insurance, usually usually no rooms for themselves, constant sexual harassment, rape and physical violence from the emplokyer or the ward, so even there are also problems, abuses and risks in the factories, with the huge gap of welfare, working and living conditions in between as briefly and partially described above, who would not want to transfer to the factory if there is a chance? 
    • Clearly, the question shouldn’t be “why do the domestic caretakers want to transfer to the factory”, it should be: “why is the protection on the domestic workers so little? Why is the working and living condition of domestic workers so unacceptable? Why does our government and also the governments of the migrant-sending countries allow hundreds of thousands of migrant domestic workers who take care of our elders and support our family to work and live in such a slave-like condition?
  1. NFESA is trapping itself in a ridiculous dilemma that totally derailed the role of brokers stipulated in the laws and contracts:
    • Most of the domestic caretakers have brokers and pay the monthly service fees to the latter, so they are the clients of the brokers. It should be the work of the brokers to take care of the welfare and rights of the workers, so if the workers want to transfer to a better job, the brokers should help them, not to stop them.
    • Even the employer of the caretakers are also the clients of the brokers, but the brokers should play a neutral role to balance the interests and rights of both sides. Since there is a shortage of migrant workers in the factory which has been a huge attraction to the domestic workers, what the brokers should do is to discuss with the employers to offer better salaries, working and living conditions to the workers, not just to tell them it’s not allowed for them to transfer to the factory. Actually it is allowed.
    • Most of the factories recruit migrant workers through brokers, so it is absolutely also the recruitment agencies as the employers of the brokers, theoretically, most of whom are exactly the members of the affiliates of NFESA who process the recruitment of caretakers in the factories, because it is not only absolutely legal for them to facilitate the recruitment of qualified domestic workers in the factories as their clients, and it is also the the strong needs of the factories to recruit workers. 
    • So What NFESA was trying was to request the government to ban a legal recruitment process always handled by their own members. Doesn’t it look ridiculous? Why does NFESA do so? Will the manufacturing sector be happy if they know NFESA is trying to request the government to ban the recruiting of domestic workers in their own factories? 
  1. The dilemma of the brokers proves the slave-like condition of the domestic workers:
    • As we can see, NFESA’s petition doesn’t favor the interests of the domestic workers and the employers of factories, the only party they seem to protect is the interests of the present domestic workers. 
    • But being ignored by any legal protection for so long with the tremendous comparison of welfare, working and living conditions as briefly mentioned above, it is more than natural for any domestic workers to hope to transfer to the factory if they are not slaves. The stronger anxiety from NFESA to stop the domestic workers from transferring to the factories only proves clearly once again: the domestic workers are really treated as slaves in their point of view: they shouldn’t complain, they should accept the working and living conditions they have now and never compare themselves to others, and they can never request to transfer, especially to the factory.
  1. And this is our goal, and should be the goal for many: to appeal to include domestic workers under LSA with full legal protection like other workers, and the government should use more resources and incorporate the domestic caretakers into the long-term caring system, so the slave-like condition of the domestic workers can be eliminated, so the domestic work can also be a decent and safe work protected and monitored by the labor laws. Also, this is also why domestic workers need to organize in unity to fight for their own rights, and we will be part of the movement to work and fight with them.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the jobs and livelihood of millions of people around the world, not to mention the millions of people affected by the virus and even died. When people around the world are trying to unite and fight against the distress situation from the virus, what the brokers are trying to do is to petition the government to ban the domestic workers from transferring to the factory. It is really a disgrace.

Migrant workers should not be slaves, and brokers should not be human traffickers. The brokers have many obligations and works as stipulated in the laws and regulations, they should honor their own work and industry with sincerity, honesty and integrity to everyone they encounter, especially the employers and migrant workers as both are their clients. The brokers as a whole (including the translators, drivers and other staff hired or outsourced by the agency),  shouldn’t only stand for the interests of the employers and oppress the needs, requests, complaints from the migrant workers. Instead, they should really be sympathetic to the migrant workers and assist them, too. 

The government, on the other hand, should monitor and regulate the conduct of the brokers and enforce the laws and regulations. The brokers who earn from the migrants but take them as slaves should be punished and banned from practicing as brokers. The illegal placement fees, illegal deductions, loan bondage with the enforcement  and protection by the judicial system must be seriously addressed and changed. Only until then we can see the hope of the total elimination of slavery and human trafficking in Taiwan.

I do hope all the brokers can change their ways treating the migrant workers who shoulder most of their income, but rather than sitting there and waiting for the mercy of the brokers and government officials, we shall move on our works with the migrant workers to reveal the most ugly, inhumane situation they have to highlight the problems, and also work with the migrants to unite to raise as a stronger voice and movement to demand the rights.

作者: Lennon Wong

勞工運動者、組織者。 An labor activist and organizer in Taiwan.

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