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Protection for dispatched workers require balance

Publication Date : 01-06-2014


Taiwan's labour authorities are seeking to introduce stricter laws next year, regulating the job market by curbing the use of dispatched workers. But employers — from both the private and government sectors — have expressed concerns.

Currently, the dispatched labor market is a gray area where some of the nation's labour laws do not apply and wherein many dispatched workers have found themselves victims of exploitation.

The labour ministry's plan is to introduce a three-per cent cap on the number of dispatched workers a company can use as part of its entire workforce.

Earlier this week, Labour Minister Pan Shih-wei openly suggested that government offices completely abstain from employing dispatched workers.

Many government bodies responded by saying that such a ban would be infeasible, because they would not be able to replace dispatched workers by hiring more regulars civil servants.

To evaluate the pros and cons of such a move by the ministry, we must first understand why there is a demand for dispatched workers.

Dispatched workers are contracted by job agencies, which send them to companies looking for temporary help.

The advantage is that a company does not have to maintain a regular workforce larger than it usually needs. It can rely on temporary support from dispatched workers when there is more work to do. It pays wages to these workers, but is not responsible for their national health or labour insurance polices. And when the work is done, these workers can be laid off without the temporary employer having to give them severance pay.

It is a simple pay-as-you-work model. But such a practice is unfair to these under-paid and under-privileged temporary workers who have to do the same amount of work as regular staff yet do not enjoy the same benefits. There is no paid leave and they may never receive the same level of pay as regular employees because part of their pay has to go to the job agencies as commission.

Dispatched workers are even worse off than the part-timers employed directly by companies because the law stipulates that part-time workers enjoy the benefits of health and labour insurance policies offered to full-time employees.

And the dispatch model has often been exploited by companies that look to reduce labour costs, particularly when the economy is not doing well.

Companies in Taiwan started using more dispatched workers a few years ago during the global financial crisis. But even with the economy improving, the number of dispatched workers employed by companies has shown no signs of dropping, alarming labour authorities and activists alike.

Even the government is a major employer of dispatched workers. Figures released earlier this year showed that they comprise more than three per cent of the workforce employed by all Cabinet bodies.

If the government was banned from using them, all those dispatched workers currently employed by government agencies would lose their jobs. The government's demand for employees could be not directly translated into openings in the job market because of restrictions stipulated by the Civil Services Act.

People can be hired as civil servants only after passing government exams, and government offices have quotas for civil servants.

Is it a feasible move to introduce a cap on private companies' use of dispatched workers and require job agencies to take up more responsibilities for their welfare?

There is no guarantee that private companies will hire more regular employees to replace the dispatched workers they may have to lay off if required to do so by law. They could simply outsource more of their work instead of hiring new people.

The labour ministry needs to work out a policy that can maintain a balance between the needs of the employers and the rights of the workers.


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