Taiwan plans to lift curbs on import of workers from Vietnam

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan plans to lift a 10-year ban on the recruitment of domestic helpers including caregivers and of fishing workers from Vietnam, an official said Monday.

Taiwan banned their recruitment in separate moves in 2004 and 2005 to try to reduce the number of Vietnamese leaving their jobs and becoming illegal immigrants on the island.

Existing workers from Vietnam in these categories were unaffected.

The runaway ratio has fallen from a high of 10.16 per cent in 2004 to 5.77 per cent last year after the Vietnamese government imposed punitive measures on runaway workers in Taiwan.

"The Vietnamese authorities have voiced hope the ban could be lifted after 10 years," Tsai Meng-liang, spokesman for the labour ministry's workforce development agency, told AFP.

He was speaking after working-level labour officials from the two sides met in Taipei Monday.

"We reached a consensus that the two countries should step up labour cooperation," Tsai said, adding that details would be settled at a ministerial-level meeting in Vietnam next month.

Currently Taiwan employs 20,000 domestic helpers as well as 110,000 manufacturing workers from Vietnam, making the communist state one of the island's major labour suppliers.

In total, there are more than 550,000 foreign workers in Taiwan, mostly from Southeast Asia.

Monday's discussions came amid reports that Indonesia was scheduled by 2017 to ban its citizens from working aboard as domestic helpers.

The reports prompted concern among more than 170,000 Taiwanese families who now hire Indonesian helpers.

Tsai said the government has prepared for the worst even though the move by Jakarta has not been confirmed.

"We respect any decision by other governments, but we've to prepare for the worst so that domestic employers could have more options," he said.

Indonesia has repeatedly pledged in recent years to stop sending domestic helpers abroad by 2017, and from that date only to send skilled workers overseas.

President Joko Widodo, who took office last year, promised in February to ensure that maids would no longer be sent abroad in the future, but did not mention a date.