Many of those laid off were foreign workers. The number of foreign workers peaked at 374,000 in July 2008 before falling to 343,000 in April 2009, when migrants were almost four percent of Taiwan's 9.2 million workers. Migrant layoffs were concentrated in electronics and garment manufacturing, affecting primarily Filipina and Thai women, while the number of Indonesian caregivers rose slightly. In April 2009, the number of migrant caregivers, 172,000, exceeded the number of migrant industrial and construction workers, 171,000, for the first time.
Many foreign workers want jobs in Taiwan because of relatively high minimum wages, NT$17,280 ($510) a month or about $3 an hour in all sectors except care giving, where the minimum wage is NT$15,840. Manufacturing workers typically earn $200 to $400 a month in overtime. Most of the migrant women employed in electronics are in their mid-20s and usually have at least high-school diplomas.
As factory production shrinks, foreign workers risk loss of overtime and layoffs. Most migrants live in company-provided dorms, for which many employers deduct NT$4,000 a month for room and board, 23 percent of the minimum wage. In addition, Taiwan allows the labor brokers who match most migrants with jobs to charge up to NT$1,800 a month for their first year in Taiwan, NT$1,700 a month during the second year, and NT$1,500 a month during the third year, or about 10 percent of the Taiwanese minimum wage.
However, many brokers charge migrants an additional NT$200,000 ($6,000) as a placement fee, which is allowed if the migrant signs a side agreement.
Foreign workers are not obtaining the overtime work they expected, making it difficult to repay the loans they took to get jobs in Taiwan. Migrants are entitled to the minimum wage even if their hours are reduced unless they agree to fewer hours. Some factories have asked migrants to adopt 4-3 work schedules, four days of work followed by three days off.
A few migrants have accepted return tickets to their countries of origin, saving their employers severance costs; many hope to be selected to return when the economy recovers. With recovery, however, many of the minimum-wage assembly jobs now filled by migrants in Taiwan may move to lower-wage countries such as China and Vietnam.
The Council of Labor Affairs, which regulates the employment of migrant workers, banned the recruitment of additional foreign workers in March 2009 for factories wishing to hire migrants for the third or overnight shift. The CLA also limited migrants to a maximum 20 percent of a manufacturer's work force.