Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, conduct strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits discrimination, dismissal, or other unfair treatment of workers for union-related activities and requires reinstatement of workers fired for legal trade union activity. Employees hired through dispatching agencies (i.e., temporary workers) do not have the right to organize and bargain collectively in the enterprises where they work. Authorities effectively enforced the law. Penalties are commensurate with those for similar laws.
The Labor Incident Act, which entered into force in 2020, establishes special labor courts to handle all labor cases, including collective disputes involving a union. As of January, the average length of legal proceedings for labor incidents had been reduced to 84 days, eight days shorter than prior to passage of the act.
According to the law, there are three types of unions: enterprise unions, industrial unions, and professional unions. Enterprise unions must have 30 members to form and there may only be one union per enterprise. Enterprise unions are responsible for negotiating the working conditions and entitlements of enterprise-level collective agreements. More than 80 percent of workers were employed in companies with fewer than 30 workers where they may only join a professional or industrial union. Industrial and professional unions do not have the right to collectively bargain enterprise level working conditions but may advocate for sector-wide benefits.
The right to strike remained highly restricted. Teachers, civil servants, and defense industry employees do not have the right to strike. Workers in industries such as utilities, hospital services, and telecommunication-service providers are allowed to strike only if they maintain basic services during the strike. Authorities may prohibit, limit, or break up a strike during a disaster. Workers are allowed to strike only in “adjustment” disputes such as compensation and working schedules. The law forbids strikes related to rights guaranteed under the law, which in principle should be resolved through the judicial system.
The law requires mediation of labor disputes when authorities deem them sufficiently serious or involving unfair practices. Mediation usually resolved most cases within 20 days. Legally binding arbitration generally took between 45 and 79 working days. The law prohibits strikes or other acts of protest during conciliation or arbitration proceedings. Labor organizations stated this prohibition impeded workers’ ability to exercise their right to strike.
The Ministry of Labor oversees implementation and enforcement of labor laws in coordination with local labor affairs authorities. Authorities effectively enforced laws providing for freedom of association and collective bargaining. Ministry arbitration committees reviewed cases of antiunion activities, and authorities subjected violators to fines or restoration of employee’s duties. Such fines were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.
Large enterprises frequently made it difficult for employees to organize an enterprise union through methods such as blacklisting union organizers from promotion or relocating them to other work divisions. These methods were particularly common in the technology sector. For example there was only one enterprise union among the 520 companies in Hsinchu Science Park, where more than 150,000 employees worked.
Between May and August, the Miramar Golf and Country Club Enterprise Union conducted the longest strike in Taiwan’s history to protest the termination and mandatory transfer of 44 workers to other employers. The Miramar conglomerate restructured its operations at the golf course in Linkou, Taoyuan, on May 8 under the Business Mergers and Acquisitions Act. The union alleged that the company split the existing employees between three smaller subsidiaries and a fourth outside company employing less than 30 workers to effectively eliminate the union. After 12 rounds of negotiation, including Ministry of Labor and municipal authorities, the conglomerate agreed to revoke the restructuring and return all workers to their previous employment status.
Authorities provided financial incentives through cash awards of up to 498,000 New Taiwan dollars ($16,600) to enterprise unions to encourage negotiation of “collective agreements” with employers.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prescribes penalties for forced labor, and authorities effectively enforced the law, but courts delivered light sentences or fines in most forced labor convictions. Such penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Authorities can terminate brokers’ business operations but there is no legal prohibition against reopening a business through a proxy that registers as a new company.
Authorities continued public-awareness campaigns, including disseminating worker-education pamphlets, operating foreign-worker hotlines, and offering Ministry of Education programs on labor trafficking as part of the broader human rights curriculum. Forced labor occurred primarily in sectors reliant on migrant workers, including domestic service, fishing, farming, manufacturing, meat processing, and construction. Some labor brokers charged foreign workers exorbitant recruitment fees and used debts incurred from these fees in the source country as tools of coercion to subject the workers to debt bondage (see section 7.e.).
Migrant fishermen reported abuses by senior crewmembers, including beatings, withholding of food and water, retention of identity documents, wage deductions, and noncontractual compulsory sharing of vessel operational costs to retain their labor. These abuses were particularly prevalent in Taiwan’s large distant-waters fishing fleet, which operated without adequate oversight (see section 7.e.). Greenpeace issued reports during the year and in 2019 alleging indicators of forced labor in the operations of two Taiwan-owned, foreign-flagged fishing vessels, Chin Chun No.12 and Da Wang, including physical violence, excessive overtime, and withholding of wages. The Control Yuan in May issued an investigation report ordering the National Immigration Agency, Ocean Affairs Council, and Fisheries Agency to take corrective measures.
The law requires labor brokers to report mistreatment such as withholding identification documents, restrictions on access to dorms or residences, and excessive work hours violating the general work conditions of foreign workers to law enforcement authorities within 24 hours. Penalties for not doing so include small fines. The law prohibits brokers from specific acts against migrant workers, including sexual assault, human trafficking, or forced labor, with penalties including modest fines and possible criminal charges.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The legal minimum age for employment is 15, but an exception allows children younger than 15 to work if they have completed junior high school and appropriate authorities have determined the work will not harm the child’s mental and physical health. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from doing heavy or hazardous work. Working hours for children are limited to eight hours per day, and children may not work overtime or on night shifts. The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor.
County and city labor bureaus effectively enforced minimum age laws by ensuring the implementation of compulsory education. Employers who violate minimum age laws face a prison sentence, fines, or both, which were not commensurate with those of analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, age, and sexual orientation. The law prohibits potential employers from requesting medical reports from job candidates to prove they do not have HIV or other communicable diseases. The law forbids termination of employment because of pregnancy or marriage. The law does not restrict women’s working hours, occupations, or tasks. Authorities effectively enforced the law and penalties were commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.
Workers who encounter discrimination can file complaints with two independent committees composed of scholars, experts, and officials in city and county departments of labor affairs. Local labor affairs bureaus are empowered to intervene and investigate complaints of employment discrimination. Authorities enforced decisions made by those committees. Employers can appeal rulings to the Ministry of Labor and administrative courts.
A March survey by the Standard Chartered Bank and local media company Womany showed that 43.3 percent of employees were dissatisfied with gender equality practices in hiring and in the workplace, including in promotion policies and the division of work. According to official statistics, the median monthly income for women in 2019 was on average 87.7 percent of the amount their male counterparts earned. In September Taipei City awarded Taiwan’s first gender-equality certifications to 12 enterprises that met the stated standards on LGBTQI+ rights, work-life balance, women’s empowerment, and wage equality.
The law requires 3 percent of the workforce in the public sector and 1 percent of the workforce in the private sector to be persons with disabilities. In 2020, 3.7 percent of the public-sector workforce consisted of persons with disabilities; the private sector continued to fall short of the target. Companies with more than 67 employees failing to meet the target are potentially liable for small fines.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: The Ministry of Labor’s Basic Wage Committee sets a minimum wage that is regularly adjusted. The minimum wage law does not cover workers in certain categories, such as management employees, medical doctors and other healthcare workers, gardeners, bodyguards, self-employed lawyers, civil servants, contractors for local authorities, and domestic workers. The minimum wage is above the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s poverty level, although foreign fishermen on vessels operating outside Taiwan’s territorial seas earned significantly below the national minimum wage. Foreign domestic workers are required to be paid a minimum monthly salary of 17,000 New Taiwan dollars ($5,700); NGOs reported that due to the absence of regulations on their working hours, in practice their remuneration routinely fell well below the national minimum wage. The Labor Incident Act places the burden of proof on employers, not workers, in wage and hour disputes.
In 2020, reportedly due to COVID-19-related economic pressures, the Ministry of Labor reported that the number of workers involved in labor dispute cases, particularly in wage and improper dismissal cases, increased by 41.3 percent.
Regular working hours are eight hours per day and 40 hours per week, with overtime limited to 54 hours per month. The law requires a mandatory rest interval for shift work of eight hours or longer in certain sectors and limits the number of working days to 12 days in a two-week period. Employees in “authorized special categories” approved by the Ministry of Labor are exempt from regular working hours stipulated in the law. These include security guards, flight attendants, insurance salespersons, real estate agents, journalists, public transport drivers, domestic workers, and caregivers.
To allow foreign caregivers and household workers to attend religious services on a certain day of the week, a publicly funded “respite care service” provides substitutes on a per-day basis.
Occupational Safety and Health: The law provides for occupational safety and health standards that are appropriate for the main industries in the economy. The law makes enterprise and dispatching agencies responsible for occupational injuries to temporary workers. Workers can remove themselves from a situation that endangers their health and safety and report to their supervisor without jeopardizing their employment. Employers, however, can terminate the employment contract if they can prove the worker abused the right to suspend work and the competent authority has affirmed the employer was in compliance.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing wage and hour laws as well as occupational safety and health standards in conjunction with the labor agencies of local authorities. The ministry effectively enforced the minimum wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health laws. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes such as fraud or negligence. Employers are subject to civil but not criminal charges when their employees are involved in fatal accidents due to unsafe working conditions.
Authorities recruited an additional 177 labor inspectors in 2020, bringing the number of inspectors to a total of 1,033, just short of the ILO’s standard for industrial market economies.
Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections. Authorities can fine employers and revoke their hiring privileges for violations of the law, and the law mandates publicizing the names of offending companies. Employers found to be in violation of labor laws during an inspection are not eligible for certain tax reductions or grants.
Of the 33,092 inspections conducted in 2020, 19.2 percent identified violations, primarily related to regulations on regular working hours and overtime work, concentrated in sectors including wholesale and retail, logistics and transportation, accommodation, and food services. Six percent of inspections identified workplace safety violations. The freight and passenger transportation industries saw higher than average accident rates among drivers working overtime.
More than 700,000 foreign workers were employed, primarily from Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand; most were recruited through a labor broker. The Ministry of Labor is required to inspect and oversee the brokerage companies to ensure compliance with the law. The ministry also operates a Foreign Worker Direct Hire Service Center and an online platform to allow employers to hire foreign workers without using a broker. Foreign workers may change employers in cases of exploitation or abuse.
The Ministry of Labor maintained a 24-hour toll-free “1955” hotline service in six languages (Mandarin, English, Indonesian, Thai, Tagalog, and Vietnamese) where foreign workers can obtain free legal advice, request urgent relocation and protection, report abuse by employers, file complaints about delayed salary payments, and make other inquiries. All reported cases are registered in a centralized database for law enforcement to track and intervene if necessary. Among the 209,641 calls in 2020, the hotline helped 2,985 foreign workers transfer to a new employer and 4,227 to reclaim a total of 116 million New Taiwan dollars ($3.87 million) in salary payments.
Foreign workers’ associations maintained that despite the existence of the hotline and authorities’ effective response record, foreign workers were often reluctant to report employer abuses for fear the employer would terminate their contract, subjecting them to possible deportation and leaving them unable to pay off debts to recruiters.
Foreign workers generally faced exploitation and incurred significant debt burdens during the recruitment process due to excessive brokerage fees, guarantee deposits, and higher charges for flights and accommodations. Brokerage agencies often required workers to take out loans for “training” and other fees at local branches of Taiwan banks in their home countries at high interest rates, leaving them vulnerable to debt bondage. NGOs suggested authorities should seek further international cooperation with labor-sending countries, particularly on oversight of transnational labor brokers.
In several instances during the COVID-19 pandemic, foreign workers in factories were prohibited from leaving their dormitories except to travel to and from work; such restrictions did not apply to local employees or the general population.
Foreign fishermen were commonly subjected to mistreatment and poor working conditions. Domestic labor laws only apply to fishermen working on vessels operating within Taiwan’s territorial waters. Fishermen working on Taiwan-flagged vessels operating beyond Taiwan’s territorial waters (the distant-waters fishing fleet) were not afforded the same labor rights, wages, insurance, and pensions as those recruited to work within Taiwan’s territorial waters. For example regulations only require a minimum monthly wage for foreign fishermen in the distant water fleet significantly below the domestic minimum wage. NGOs reported that foreign fishing crews in the distant-waters fishing fleet generally received wages below the required minimum because of dubious deductions for administrative fees and deposits. Several NGOs, including Greenpeace and the Taiwan International Workers Association, advocated for the abolition of this separate employment system, in which an estimated 20,000 migrant workers were employed. Most of these fishermen were recruited from Indonesia and the Philippines.
The Fisheries Agency has officers in American Samoa, Mauritius, Fiji, Palau, South Africa, and the Marshall Islands and inspectors in some domestic ports to monitor and inspect docked Taiwan-flagged long-haul fishing vessels. These officials used a multilingual questionnaire to interview foreign fishermen and examine labor conditions on board. The Fisheries Agency acknowledged the need for more inspectors; they conducted labor inspections of only approximately 400 of the more than 1,100 vessels in the distant waters fishing fleet.
Informal Sector: Authorities estimated that more than 53,000 migrant workers had lost touch with their legal employers and likely remained informally employed elsewhere in Taiwan. Studies suggested that employment of such undocumented migrant workers were concentrated in the domestic work and manufacturing sectors. NGOs reported that some migrant workers legally employed as domestic workers were in fact informally employed outside the home, predominantly in small, family-owned businesses in the food and beverage and retail sectors, where they did not enjoy applicable labor protections.