Friday, October 10, 2014

Activists pan foreign farm labor plan

Activists pan foreign farm labor plan

‘HIGHLY IRRESPONSIBLE’:Labor activists and rural advocates said the plan to import foreign labor would only benefit large firms at the expense of family farms

By Lii Wen  /  Staff reporter
Labor activists and rural advocacy groups yesterday slammed the government’s plan to import foreign farm labor, calling the plan “highly irresponsible,” following suggestions by Council of Agriculture (COA) Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) earlier this week.
Chen said that the hiring of foreign farm hands was “inevitable” and proposed to introduce migrant workers to Taiwanese farms on a trial basis starting in January, to address what he called a serious shortage of domestic farm labor.
The Ministry of Labor did not immediately concur with the proposal.
In a statement, ministry officials said the proposal should be “evaluated with caution,” adding that they would discuss the issue with experts and labor organizations in a meeting scheduled for Tuesday.
Wu Chin-yi (吳勁毅), a post-doctoral research fellow at National Dong Hwa University and member of the rural advocacy group Taiwan Rural Front, questioned the plan, claiming it could “destroy” household agriculture in rural areas.
“It all comes down to who you characterize as the core constituency of Taiwanese agriculture,” Wu said. “If the government’s goal is to aid large agribusinesses, migrant workers might make sense. But if, like us, you see household agriculture as the core, the solution would be different.”
Wu said innovative business models have successfully generated much higher revenues.
Citing examples from his own research, he said that origin certification for agricultural products in Taitung’s Chihshang (池上) and Guanshan (關山) townships has generated profitable results, leading to many local youth returning to their rural hometowns.
Labor activists were also unimpressed with Chen’s proposal, calling on the COA to implement other reforms on the ailing sector instead.
“The government should put more effort into policy reform and provide assistance to the agricultural sector, instead of irresponsibly procuring new sources of cheap labor to exploit,” Taiwan International Workers’ Association (TIWA) researcher Wu Jing-ru (吳靜如) said.
“If the farms suffer from a shortage of domestic labor, they should simply raise their wages,” Wu said, adding that migrant workers often received minimum pay and were more vulnerable to abuse and harsh working conditions.
Betty Chen (陳容柔), also a member of TIWA, said that the seasonal nature of farm labor could mean a propensity toward short-term work.
She said this could mean more brokerage fees and travel expenses for migrant workers.
“We’ve seen many migrant workers in the fishing sector working for multiple fishing ships, which makes the employers less accountable,” Betty Chen said, adding that should the migrant workers work as dispatch workers, their rights would be even more difficult to defend.
The COA had earlier suggested that migrant workers could work for different farms over different seasons as dispatch workers while being officially employed by local farmers’ associations.
Taiwan is home to about 520,000 migrant workers, mostly from Southeast Asian nations, currently limited to employment as industrial laborers, marine workers and household caretakers.
Additional reporting by Jason Pan

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