Fishing and boat company owners were among 19 people charged yesterday in the southern city of Kaohsiung for illegally holding 81 foreign fishermen in buildings after they had berthed their boats.
When they were at sea, the fishermen were sometimes made to work for 48 consecutive hours without rest for a monthly wage of US $300-$500, the prosecutors said -- despite Taiwan's labour laws which stipulate a maximum working day of eight hours and minimum wage of around $930.
"The accused exploited the fishermen with illegal methods for their own profit," prosecutors said in a statement, describing the fishermen as "slave labour in the sea".
The 19 face charges of human trafficking and offences against personal liberty and could face a maximum seven-year jail term if convicted.
Prosecutors also confiscated nearly $3.69 million from the companies in back pay for the workers.
The case came to light last year after a fisherman tipped off prosecutors with the help of a social worker, the statement said.
Authorities later raided two places where fishermen from countries including Indonesia, the Philippines, Tanzania and Vietnam were held and rescued them.
Environments group Greenpeace has said previously that foreign crew on Taiwanese vessels endure "horrendous" working conditions and physical abuse, as well as withheld payments and exploitation by recruitment agents.
The case comes after an outcry over a police shooting of an unarmed Vietnamese migrant worker last month.
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