Tue, Feb 12, 2008 - Page 8 News List

LETTERS: Ending the exploitation

I read your article on domestic workers missing holidays ("No holiday for many domestics," Feb. 4, page 2) with anger and shame. I was reminded of the novels of Charles Dickens who described the horrible working conditions in Victorian England, which so shocked the public that new laws were enacted to control greedy, heartless people who employed children in dangerous jobs and offered people a life of endless work and little sleep for paltry wages.

The stories you provided are a shameful litany of Taiwanese greed, exploitation and inhumanity. For your readers who missed the article, you described the case of Mary who had to work from 6am to 11pm daily for NT$500, or less than NT$30 per hour. Talk about slave wages. If she dared to take a day off, she was docked even this pitiful amount. Hired to care for an elderly person, she was also saddled with duties like housework and shopping.

This is not unusual treatment of domestic helpers. Tina was hired to care for a bedridden patient. Her unrelenting work involved turning over a stroke victim and doing a medical check every 90 minutes, so that she was deprived of a decent night's sleep for three years.

Another girl who cared for a sick elderly person for three years received a bonus of NT$300.

What is the reason for such naked exploitation and sickening behavior? The answer is quite simple: These foreign workers are not covered by the Labor Standards Law (勞基法). Unbelievably, the government offers these most vulnerable workers no real protection, amounting to an open invitation to the people who employ these domestic workers and caregivers to exploit the workers to their heart's content.

These foreign workers face all kinds of disadvantages. They do the work that Taiwanese citizens find most distasteful, primarily caring for the old, the infirm, the sick and the dying.

These workers face corrupt middlemen from their home countries who extract exorbitant fees for the privilege of working like coolies for pennies. Then they have to deal with the corrupt agents in Taiwan who also greedily take their share of money. Finally, they have to contend with employers who treat them as indentured slaves, denying them decent work conditions, days off, honest wages and even sufficient sleep.

Since these people have invested a great deal for the "privilege" of being exploited in Taiwan, since the conditions in their home countries are often hopeless, since they usually don't speak the language upon arrival and sometimes even have their passports seized by their employers, since they have little legal protection and since they are terrified of being shipped home, they, in great desperation, accept their treatment with a stoicism that is both admirable and pitiful.

Because so many employers treat these people in an inhuman manner, and since there is no legal recourse, there are only a few possible solutions.

The first is to organize a national strike by all foreign domestic employees and caregivers to highlight their plight to the people of Taiwan and to remind their employers that such naked exploitation will not be tolerated. The government would find it difficult and immensely embarrassing to repatriate 160,000 people for being ill-treated. Besides, who would take care of the old and the sick in the meantime?

The other solution is to organize an international boycott by the countries most affected (like the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand) to stop sending workers for a trial period of three to six months and see if the resulting chaos in Taiwan could finally prod the government into doing the right thing and protecting those who are most vulnerable.

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