Birthrate Boosters and Migrant Workers’ Rights

Recently revised policies have introduced incentives to raise the local birthrate. Meanwhile, the Taiwan government has issued clarifications regarding the treatment of migrant workers during the pandemic.

Taiwan’s low birthrate has been attracting attention for several years as the island moves ever closer to becoming a super-aged society, in which at least 20% of the population is aged 65 or older. Statistics on fertility rates published by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency ranks Taiwan last among 227 countries. Its fertility rate of 1.07 children per women of child-bearing age is slightly lower than the next four lowest birthrates: South Korea at 1.09, Singapore at 1.15, Macau at 1.121, and Hong Kong at 1.22. (The replacement level is 2.1).

In May, the Executive Yuan proposed a NT$9.1 billion set of subsidies for parental leave, prenatal care, and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures. Parts of the proposal have already taken effect. Additional legislative measures include the following proposed bills:

  • Amendments to the Employment Insurance Act’s Article 19-2 to allow both parents to apply for the act’s parental-leave allowance at the same time.
  • Amendments to Article 15 of the Gender Equality in Employment Act to increase the number of paid leave days for prenatal checkups from five to seven days.
  • Amendments to Article 22 of the Gender Equality in Employment Act to allow spouses to go on unpaid parental leave at the same time for one to six months, with each household able to take this leave twice.
  • The following benefits and policies took effect on July 1, 2021:
  • Stipulation in an amendment to Article 2 of the Regulations for Implementing Unpaid Parental Leave for Raising Children that written parental leave requests should be made at least 10 days in advance.
  • An increase in the amount of parental leave allowance from the current 60% of an employee’s average monthly salary to 80%. The additional 20% will be subsidized by the government. The increase is estimated to cost about NT$4.2 billion, or almost half of the total package.
  • Widening in the availability of government subsidies for IVF procedures to include all married couples unable to conceive where at least one of the spouses is Taiwanese and where the woman is younger than 45 years old. Qualifying high-income couples with a certain combined income are eligible for a subsidy of NT$100,000 for their first IVF procedure and NT$60,000 for each subsequent one. Qualifying lower- to middle-income couples with a certain combined income will be eligible for a subsidy of NT$150,000 per procedure. The income thresholds vary according to local government policies.
  • An increase in the number of free prenatal visits from 10 to 14 for each pregnancy, with coverage expanded to include tests for gestational diabetes and anemia, plus two ultrasound tests. As noted above, there is a proposal to increase the number of paid leave days for such checkups from five to seven days. Although this bill has yet to be passed by the Legislative Yuan, if an employer allows employees to be off work for seven prenatal checkups, the additional two days’ pay would be subsidized by the government.

In our analysis, most of these changes will not have much impact on employee working time for American companies in Taiwan. What may be more significant is the concurrent parental leaves in companies where both spouses are employed. The increase in the number of free prenatal visits and related leaves is not very big, but companies should prepare for it. Businesses that have extensive write-ups of specific leave times within their registered work rules should take this opportunity to update the relevant provisions.

Clarifying migrant workers’ rights

Over the summer, a couple of COVID-19 outbreaks at Taiwan factories where migrant workers were employed led to a severe backlash from local authorities in Miaoli County and from many companies (including some international companies) that issued rules singling out their foreign employees.

The Miaoli County rules prohibited foreign workers from leaving their dormitories starting from June 7, 2021, and the restrictions remained in place until June 29. During that time, several companies were emboldened to issue bizarrely strict rules aimed only at their foreign workers. These included:

  • Prohibitions on foreign workers leaving dormitories;
  • Warnings that foreign employees would have to compensate the company for its losses if they got sick during non-work hours;
  • Warnings that foreign employees who contracted COVID-19 would have to pay for all of their own medical costs;
  • A warning that foreign workers who died would be cremated before their family would have a chance to see them;
  • Threats that families of foreign workers who died from COVID-19 would be cut off from any death benefits;
  • Prohibitions on foreign employees riding on public transportation;
  • Requirements that foreign employees buy all their food from company stores and prohibiting the delivery of food, groceries, or care packages; and
  • Threats to fire any foreign employees breaking these rules.  

The Taiwan Association for Human Rights and many other groups and commentators publicly spoke out against the imposition of such rules, which were specifically aimed at employees based on their ethnicity, and the restrictions attracted widespread attention. Fairly rapidly, the Taichung City Labor Bureau, the Ministry of Labor, and the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control issued statements that there was no basis for such restrictions under Taiwan’s laws and that COVID control issues more properly fell under the jurisdiction of the nation’s public health authorities.

In late June, the CDC stated that while people should not go outdoors unless necessary, “people are not prohibited from going out; regardless of whether they are migrant workers or nationals, the standards are consistent.”

Key provisions of Taiwan employment law forbid discrmination on the basis of race, language, place of origin, and place of birth, among others. This opens a company to all sorts of potential issues once they start making rules aimed specifically at foreign workers. For global companies, there are also serious reputational issues that come into play if such rules are publicized.

There are much better and legal ways for employers to address concerns about a factory outbreak disrupting production and endangering workers. For example, companies can incentivize employees to stay in their dorms or living quarters, arrange for grocery shopping and food delivery, and otherwise try to assist with making life bearable for foreign workers being asked to voluntarily curb activities. Creative thinking can help employers avoid serious trouble. The key is to take advantage of the natural alignment of interests since factory workers don’t want to contract a deadly disease, and factory owners don’t want to have to shut down production in response to an outbreak.