Thu, Aug 25, 2005 - Page 8 News List

We should be ashamed of treatment of migrants

By Wang Hong-zen 王宏仁

As I walked into the Vietnamese village I was visiting, many people came to ask me about opportunities to work in Taiwan. It was hard to explain to them that they could be debt-ridden after a few years of working in Taiwan.

We in Taiwan have believed that importing guestworkers helps the source country to escape from poverty and improve their living standards. Many third-world countries also see labor export as a part of their economic development strategy. However, who benefits from this?

Our fieldwork data shows that the most disadvantaged people in Vietnam's social hierarchy -- who hope to make money from their overseas work -- benefit very little from the labor export policy. Instead, their hard-earned money is completely appropriated by Taiwanese and Vietnamese elites who control the recruitment process.

The female boss of a small guesthouse in Hanoi where I happened to stay had worked for two years in Lukang (鹿港). She told me that her time in Taiwan was harsh: 12 hours of work every day, without a single day off the entire time. She is lucky in the sense that she had overtime pay, and after two years of hard work she saved around US$6,500.

What? Only US$6,500?

Yes, she told me. Her basic salary was appropriated and she only saw the overtime pay.

So, where did her basic salary, worth around US$11,520 for the two years, go?

Deducting set expenses such as an official service charge, airfare, income tax, etc, which amount to about US$6,000, migrant workers should theoretically have more than US$5,000 after two years work, even without overtime pay. But this money is taken by Taiwanese and Vietnamese placement agencies.

The guesthouse boss told me that she borrowed US$6,000 to pay the placement fee, at an annual interest rate of 20 percent. Deducting the set costs for airfare and the like, the rest of her wage was insufficient to cover the loan and interest. She had to work overtime, and stay for more than two years, so that she could make some money.

"Lucky" workers are able to stay and work for three years in Taiwan. Others are "lucky" enough to be able to earn pay from overtime work, like the Vietnamese guesthouse boss. But workers who stay for less than two years and aren't paid overtime, end up in debt.

The average length of time Vietnamese workers stay in Taiwan is only one year and four months. The average Vietnamese migrant worker is in debt.

This is why this kind of scene could be observed in one Vietnamese village: "Successful" migrant workers had renovated their houses, equipping them with the most modern domestic facilities, while "failed" migrant workers were in debt, and forced to sell their land to find another overseas job to pay back the money.

Migrant workers are exploited by two parties before they leave for Taiwan. Then, when they arrive, they are exploited by one more: the employer. Taiwanese placement agencies appropriate half of their wages earned over two years: the Vietnamese agency earns 40 percent and the employer gets 10 percent -- plus a docile labor force that will not complain about excessive overtime.

A lucky migrant worker earns some money and returns to do business. But how about the other half who fail?

The dependency theory describes the uneven distribution of power between core and periphery states, with the elites in the core and periphery states uniting to exploit the bottom class in the third world. The situation of migrant workers in Taiwan tells the same story.

This story has been viewed 3379 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top