The Guest Labor System in Taiwan
Since the late 1980s, Taiwan's manufacturing and construction employers have pressured the state to increase substantially guest worker intakes in order to reduce labor shortages, to expand the supply of cheap accessible labor, and to weaken upward pressures on wage costs. This article describes the origins and development of the guest labor system and analyzes the effects it has had on Taiwan's economy and on workers both guest and local. The author analyzes the economic dimensions of migrant labor in the context of state efforts to promote employers' interests within a framework of class compromises and examines the response of Tai-wan's labor unions to the growing availability of cheaper foreign labor. Opposition to the mandatory food and accommodation fees imposed on guest workers led the state to encourage employers to recruit guest workers directly from the countries of origin in order to eliminate brokers' fees, the greatest source of migrant hardship. The author shows, however, that direct hiring has failed due to kickback arrangements involving employers, brokers, and state officials. This has brought the class basis of Taiwan's guest worker policy into sharp focus and engendered an intense struggle by guest workers.