Thu, Jan 19, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Letter: Abuse a disgrace

By Chaim Melamed

It was with great dismay and shame that I read your article ("Despite hardships, foreign workers stay on in Taiwan,'" Jan 16, page 2) on foreign workers. What a tale of greed, incompetence and corruption. Unscrupulous and greedy people, or rather vultures, prey upon helpless guest workers. The corruption is endemic and systemic.

The situation in which these workers find themselves is something out of a Dickens novel. They are treated like indentured servants at best or forced labor prisoners at worst. These people come from countries mired in poverty with little or no opportunities.

Honest, diligent and hard working, these men and women are prepared to sacrifice years of their lives, and separation from friends and family in order to be able to send back the pittance they are able to save. They come to Taiwan, a modern, free, democratic country, with rule of law, to take those jobs that locals would never accept -- the dirty, backbreaking work that sustains the nation's prosperity. What do these migrant workers find upon arrival?

They quickly discover that they are exploited, mistreated, robbed and deprived of all right to legal redress. Seventy hour weeks are not uncommon for virtual slave labor, with a tiny fraction of overtime pay. Salary? NT$15,000 per month (up to NT$20,000 with incredible amounts of overtime) or less than half the local salary (if and when they are paid), even if locals would take such work.

These workers have to deal with brokers who take NT$1,500 to NT$1,800 per month, an amount "set by law" to handle workers documents, taxes, etc, but frequently take more and offer few if any benefits. In other words these positions have become licenses to steal. Where are the government, courts, human-rights organizations?

Now that these workers have been overworked and bled fairly dry, they face inflated service charges for bedding, meals, etc. After a month of these conditions, they can add up what is left and send funds back home to desperate families.

When workers rioted in Kaohsiung over these very conditions, the so-called ringleaders were quickly hustled out of the country, as they had no legal rights, and their employers were hardly eager to have their despicable activities placed under public scrutiny.

They had been cheated and remained unpaid for months, while their letter of grievance sat in some official's desk drawer. It seems that those at the Council of Labor Affairs, the police and the courts have no trouble living with these conditions. Is this due to incompetence, corruption or simply heartlessness?

So guest workers, welcome to Taiwan, a democratic nation of laws, but apparently little justice. One can't help but wonder who is next. Perhaps we could import the starving who would be willing to work for rice!

Chaim Melamed


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