Taipei-Chienkuo Technology University in Changhua County and a manpower broker on Friday denied charges made by the Ministry of Education (MOE) a day earlier that they were complicit in having overseas students work excessive hours.
In a statement issued Friday, the school disputed the findings of an MOE investigation into the case, saying that the school never forced the students to work and did not make inappropriate deductions for expenses from students' salaries.
The MOE said on Thursday that it suspected that the treatment of the students by the university and the broker may have violated the criminal code, leading it to hand the case over to prosecutors.
The ministry's suspicions were initially raised in mid-June when 19 first-year Indonesian students at the school told the ministry they were being forced to work excessive hours and had their passport and residence permit confiscated by a university-recommended broker.
The MOE began collecting evidence through Changhua County authorities after receiving the report, and its findings confirmed the students' claims, said Yang Yu-hui (???), director of the MOE's Technological and Vocational Education Department, on Thursday.
According to Yang, the 19 students had to work 48 to 54 hours per week at a welding facility, more than double the maximum 20 hours a week international students are legally allowed to work.
The Indonesian students worked from 1:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday and sometimes on weekends, performing dangerous welding tasks, said Yang, who accused the university of being aware of the situation all along.
The school even threatened to send the students back to Indonesia if they told others they were working more than 20 hours a week, she said.
The case is just the latest of several high-profile cases of abuse of foreign students, mostly from Southeast or South Asian countries, by Taiwanese universities and manpower brokers in the past year.
Under a government program, schools can receive generous subsidies to offer internship programs to students from those regions, but in some cases, universities and brokers have used the programs as pretexts to recruit students and have them serve as cheap labor.
Deputy Education Minister Liu Meng-chi (???) said Thursday the ministry will deduct subsidies it has already given to Chienkuo Technology University for the program from future payments, and will require the school to make improvements.
The school first denied the accusations in a report in the Chinese-language Liberty Times on Thursday and said it was unaware that any abuses occurred.
It said it specifically told the students with an Indonesian translator present they could work no more than 20 hours per week, and said it had heard from the factories employing the students that they were the ones who asked to work overtime.
Yang questioned how the university was unaware of the situation as the students were picked up and taken back to their dormitory at around 10 or 11 p.m. every night by an university bus.
The ministry also found that the 19 students were being paid a monthly salary of about NT$29,000 (US$936) -- clearly more than they could have earned by working 20 hours a week, Yang said.
The university deducted up to NT$15,000 per month from that pay for tuition, accommodation and three meals a day, Yang said, which also raised the MOE's suspicions of the school's practices.
According to Liu, Chienkuo Technology University clearly stated when recruiting the students that tuition would be free in their first year, and the university told the ministry that students paid for their school housing by bank transfer.
The factory where the students worked also provided free meals, Liu said, meaning the school should not have charged separately for them.
Liu said the ministry will help the students recover the wages that were improperly deducted by the university and will offer students assistance if they want to transfer to other schools or return to Indonesia.
In its statement Friday, however, Chienkuo Technology University said it did waive first-year tuition for international students under the internship program, and that the students were only asked to pay for accommodation and other miscellaneous fees amounting to NT$22,000.
The school did not mention whether it was aware of the students being overworked, saying only that students had the freedom to chose which companies to work for or whether they wanted to work at all, and that they were not forced by the school to work.
The university said it has begun investigating the allegations of mistreatment and pledged to help the students recover wages if they are owed any money.
It will also ask partner companies to abide by employment laws, the university said.
Chou Hai-cheng (???), head of Shi Xin manpower agency, the accused broker, denied at a press conference Friday that his agency had confiscated the students' passports and residence permits, or forced students to work more than 20 hours a week.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel