Question of foreign labor heats up council meeting


POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Industry representatives told the Council of Labor Affairs that cutting foreign labor could delay construction and development projects By Shelley Huang STAFF REPORTER

Sunday, Jan 11, 2009, Page 2

Debate was heated yesterday at a meeting of the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) on foreign labor policies, with labor associations urging the council to cut the foreign labor quota and industrial unions arguing the opposite. After the meeting, the Executive Yuan said local labor should take precedence over foreign workers in the construction sector.

With the economic downturn, many companies hit by sluggish demand have forced Taiwanese employees to take unpaid leave.

Although many foreign workers have also lost their jobs, labor associations have called on the government to slash quotas for foreign labor to ensure that local workers, whose wages are generally higher, do not have to compete for jobs.

“The main purpose of the council’s quarterly meeting on foreign labor policies is to hear all sides of the story from labor associations, trade unions, academics and experts on the labor market so that the council can make informed decisions,” said Chen I-min (陳益民), director-general of the Bureau of Employment and Vocational Training.

Industry representatives asked the council to give businesses more time between when permission is granted to hire foreign workers and when the employment period begins, so that companies that have received approval but are not able to hire at the moment can hire the foreign workers once the economy has improved.

But labor associations and academics questioned whether “poor economic conditions” were a good reason to loosen the rules.

Industry representatives opposed cutting foreign labor quotas and voiced concern that major construction and development projects could be delayed by any cuts.

“Domestic workers don’t want to do ‘3K’ work. Cutting foreign labor would only result in construction projects not being able to recruit enough workers and failing to meet deadlines,” said Sam Ho (何語), standing director of the Chinese National Federation of Industries.

The term “3K” refers to jobs that involve manual labor, unsanitary working conditions and dangerous working conditions.

Labor association representatives, on the other hand, cited rising unemployment and urged the government to reduce the foreign workforce until conditions improved.

“The unemployment problem is especially severe in the construction industry,” said Hu Ho-tse (胡和澤), chairman of the National Federation of Chinese Construction Workers Union.

The unemployment rate in the construction industry is about 1 percentage point to 2 percentage points higher than the national average, so the government should prohibit foreign labor in the construction industry, he said.

The only consensus reached at the meeting was that the council should put the interests of domestic workers before foreign workers and re-examine its foreign labor policies for 3K industries.

The council did not provide a time line for making any policy changes.

Later yesterday, the Executive Yuan said it had made a preliminarily decision that major public construction projects and manufacturers should give precedence to employing local workers over foreign labor this year.

Minister without Portfolio Tsai Hsun-hsiung (蔡勳雄) said implementing such a requirement could create approximately 33,000 job vacancies for local workers, and the government hopes to keep the unemployment rate for this year under 4.5 percent.

Tsai made the remarks after an inter-ministerial meeting last night.

The Cabinet is expected to approve the proposal at its Cabinet meeting by the Lunar New Year, he said.