With the government’s New Southbound Policy in full swing and numerous initiatives designed to benefit people from Southeast Asia — as well as to open up business opportunities for Taiwanese firms there — the poor treatment of migrant workers from the region is an issue that cannot be ignored.
A group of about 100 migrant workers on Sunday staged a protest in front of the Ministry of Labor, calling for legislation requiring employers to separate workers’ dormitories from factory complexes to improve safety.
It was the fifth such protest since May, after eight workers and six firefighters were killed in factory fires between December last year and April.
Workers at the protests spoke of unsafe conditions caused by dorms being connected to factories, with one worker at a Taoyuan factory saying that his dormitory does not even have a fire exit.
The ministry on Thursday last week said that while it is working on solving the problem, “a ban on on-site factory dormitories is not to be imposed any time soon, because it would require changes to the regulations, which must be preceded by inter-ministerial discussions.”
The statement implies that the discussions, which were promised by the government after the first protest nearly six months ago and repeated after every subsequent demonstration, have yet to happen, or at least make any headway.
Migrant workers have accused the government of stalling on the issue, as they cannot vote, but procrastination seems to be the government’s modus operandi regarding a slew of issues, including drawing up legislation for same-sex marriage, which it had promised to deliver by the end of last year.
The dormitory problem is more than a safety issue, as the hot air blowing from factory machinery running 24 hours a day makes living conditions at the dorms “unbearable,” workers have said.
To the government’s credit, the ministry in July improved the guidelines for the dormitories, increasing the area per worker from 3.2m2 to 4.6m2 and bathroom allotments from one per 15 workers to one per six.
Factory owners were reportedly “enraged” by the changes, saying that they would affect their profits, which is a ludicrous claim given that migrant workers can be asked to pay up to NT$5,000 per month for cramped and unsafe accommodation.
Moreover, the companies already make massive savings by hiring migrants, who work for far lower wages than Taiwanese and usually work 12 hours per day or more.
This is not a business issue, this is a human rights issue. And with Taiwanese firms looking to expand into Southeast Asia, whose consumer power is rapidly growing — Indonesia’s middle-class population has reached 50 million people, more than twice the population of Taiwan — it would be wise for companies here to treat the nearly 700,000 migrant workers with more respect.
The government last week announced that it would soon unveil new penalties for businesses that do not have proper safety measures for migrant workers. These should be closely scrutinized to make sure that they are effective and are not just a slap on the wrist.
However, it seems like the most important issue about which migrant workers are concerned is separating the dormitories from the factories.
The government must deliver on its promise and take the issue seriously instead of making the exact same statement after each protest.
However, it should act quickly, as factories would need time to implement any new guidelines, and nobody wants to see any more lives lost in the meantime.
China took advantage of the vacuum left behind when US carriers stayed out of the western Pacific Ocean due to COVID-19 outbreaks on several US Navy warships. The Chinese government is solidifying its hold on artificial islands in the South China Sea by moving in missiles and surveillance equipment, and formalizing its occupation by creating two municipal districts in the region under Hainan Island’s Sansha — Xisha District on Woody Island (Yongxing Island, 永興島) to administer the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) and Nansha District on Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑島) to administer the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) —
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