Developmental State, Human Rights and Migrant Workers

By Li, William D. H. | Development and Society, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Developmental State, Human Rights and Migrant Workers


Li, William D. H., Development and Society


Under the wave of globalization, the developmental state of Taiwan has been importing migrant workers from Southeast Asian countries for decades. This paper tries to examine the human rights issue of migrant workers under the developmental state. It argues that importing migrant workers is one important strategy of the state in response to the rapidly changing global economy in which migrant labor is perceived to be a temporary labor supplement for meeting the requirements of production. The nature of the developmental state is clearly revealed in its role in reducing the costs of production. The paper then discusses the issue of the labor rights of migrant workers. Differing quite significantly from those of local workers, the economic rights of migrant workers are the least protected from the point of view of the state labor law. Migrant workers are considered to be a different type of labor from the domestic workers for whom the government labor law has been less strictly enforced. The state's intended ignorance of migrant labor's employment conditions has resulted in the migrant labor having the least support in the work place.

Keywords: Developmental State, Migrant Workers, Human Rights, Taiwan

Introduction

The aim of this paper is to focus on the issue of the labor rights of migrant workers in Taiwan. First, a general profile of the unskilled migrant workers in Taiwan will be provided. This will be followed by a brief review of previous studies on migrant workers, in which it will be argued that the current research on migrant workers in Taiwan has mainly focused on domestic caretaker and gender issues. While some studies have looked at overseas investment by Taiwanese businesses and related labor relations, little attention has been paid to the structure of the relations set by the state in which the human rights issues of the migrant workers have been framed in Taiwan. It is argued in this paper that the social relations of migrant workers are key to the human rights issues which have been shaped by the developmental state. The productive relations of the migrant workers have been derived from the empirical research that shows how the conditions facing migrant workers have been shaped by the structure of economic relations in which migrant workers have been perceived as material resources under the fixed nature of employment relations. Unlike those workers who are free to move within the market, these migrant workers can not move in this way and should certainly remain loyal to one employer in accordance with the state rules that have been drawn up for migrant workers.

In 1992, the authorities in Taiwan began to admit foreign blue collar workers to work in specific job categories in Taiwan (Lee 2008). Figure 1 reveals the changes in the total number of migrant workers in Taiwan from 1991 to 2011. It shows that the number of workers increased dramatically beginning in 1991. At the time of writing (2011), there are about 400,000 migrant workers currently employed in Taiwan which is about 4 percent of the total employed population in Taiwan. Although this may not be a significant number when compared with the total employed population, it has formed a significant part of the current blue collar employment population in Taiwan as the government has sought to supply migrant workers to make up for the labor shortage at the low end of the labor market. These blue collar migrant workers are mainly imported to fill unskilled positions of blue collar workers in manufacturing, caregiving and the construction industry (Figure 2). In 2009, migrant workers in total accounted for just over 10 percent of the overall blue collar labor force in the country. Migrant workers in Taiwan come from Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. These countries have been the main sources of migrant workers in Taiwan.

According to the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA), the purpose behind introducing migrant workers to Taiwan is for them to serve as a supplementary labor force to fill the gap in terms of the labor shortage among mostly unskilled, dangerous and low-paid professions. …

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