Justice for Caring
Jing Ru, Wu
Taiwan International Workers Association (TIWA)
Brief introduction to migrant labor policy in Taiwan
During the 1990s, while capital was being transferred across borders, workers were migrating as cheap labor at the same time. Under neo-liberalism and pushed by global trends, in 1992, the Taiwan government established the ‘Employment Service Act’ to legalize the importation of migrant labor, while more and more factory closure cases happened. Instead of going bankrupt, these factories moved their capital out of Taiwan and caused lots of local workers to lose their jobs.
At end of April, 2017, there are about 32,000 white collar migrants in Taiwan; but the blue collar migrants have reached the amount of 640,000.
If we look at the approved occupations, importation process, and related regulations, Taiwan’s migration policy clearly treats people very differently based on their class, and is oriented towards serving capital over workers.
General situation of migrant caretakers
Among the 640,000 blue collar migrant workers in Taiwan, more than 1/3 are caretakers.
These caretakers face many difficulties in common with other migrant workers, like working period limitations, high placement fees and only being allowed to change employer under strict conditions. But for domestic migrants, who work individually inside households, there are also some other difficulties, like sexual harassment, physical abuse, and psychological pressure. And the most common and difficult situation for domestic workers is suffering with long working hours, no days off, and low payment.
The working conditions, including minimum wage and maximum working hours, etc., of all the blue collar migrants are regulated by the Labor Standard Law, except for domestic workers. This means that for all the caretakers and helpers working in individual households, there is no legal protection in terms of their working conditions.
Long term care system and migrant caretakers
There has been no social welfare system in Taiwan for a long time. Since the 1980s, some patchy care services have been offered by civil society groups. Since then, Taiwan’s elderly population has kept increasing, so the authorities started to propose several kinds of ‘long term care system’. But their proposals were not really to satisfy people’s needs, but just for some campaigns for election. So, even though Taiwan has gone through both KMT and DPP regimes, the system hasn’t been established yet. What we call ‘long term care tragedies’ are seen more and more often in the news.
According to the government’s estimation and some recent NGO research, there are about 780 thousand families in need of long term care services. And there are around 65% of these families’ needs are met by family members, 28% by migrant care takers, 4% by private institutions, and merely 3% are covered by government services. Because of the lack of government support, family members and migrant care takers are all suffering from long working hours. Most of the family members and migrant care takers have to work more than 12 hours a day to care for the elders or patients. Most of them develop not only physical problems but also psychological problems.
The KMT proposed long term care projects in their last regime, the DPP also proposed some long term care plans, and the Long-Term Care Services Act was even passed in 2015. Nevertheless, nothing makes people feel that the services from the government are growing.
We learned that the DPP authority proposed the budget for it come from the cigarette tax and inheritance tax. With the budget only from this kind of small and unstable tax, we can see that the DPP authority is not planning to take responsibility at all. On the contrary, the DPP authority is proposing to turn this kind of people’s basic need into a market. From our experience of the “free” market, we can image that eventually people who need care will be suffering financially and people who take care of the elderly will keep suffering from long working hours and low wages.
Justice for caring
We are concerned with the problems of both parties, both those who are doing the caretaking and those who are being taken care of by others. Therefore, we have been fighting against marketization of the long term care system and fighting for more funds to really establish the system.
We demand that not only care takers, including family members, can live and work with non-sweat shop situation, but also that those who are being taken care of will be served with better quality. Only the government can plan a large enough budget which can really provide the system with good working conditions for caretakers. This will encourage more people to be hired as caretakers and then there will be enough caretakers to provide good quality care for all people who need it. Only when both parties can be treated fairly will justice in caring can be achieved.