EDITORIAL: Taiwan not friendly to all foreigners

Wed, Jun 21, 2017 - Page 8

The Taipei City Government is to host an Indonesia-focused Eid al-Fitr celebration at Taipei Railway Station on Sunday to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, with the Ministry of Labor on Monday encouraging employers to allow their workers to take the day off.

That is nice, considering that US citizens working white-collar jobs likely will not get the Fourth of July off. However, foreign white-collar workers enjoy guaranteed days off, while many migrant workers do not; some have one day off per month, while others work the entire year without rest. It is ironic that the government only sees fit to “encourage” employers on probably the most important event for Indonesians in Taiwan.

The crux of the problem is that domestic service workers and caregivers in Taiwan are not covered under the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) and are therefore not legally guaranteed a weekly rest day. According to the results of a survey released in December last year by the ministry, 34.5 percent of migrant domestic caregivers did not have a single day off in June last year, despite their contracts stipulating one day off per week. A 2014 report highlighted the case of a woman who suffered a mental breakdown after working for eight months straight. In some extreme cases, migrant workers were not even allowed to leave the house, except to buy groceries.

There are also those who completely fall through the cracks. In February, there was a case of a Philippine migrant worker who signed up to work as a caregiver 14 years ago, but was “sold” to a factory, working there from 6am to 9pm daily without respite or legal status.

The ministry has twice submitted a draft domestic worker protection act that would, among other rights, guarantee a weekly day off for migrant workers, but it has never cleared the legislature or Cabinet, showing how insignificant the issue is to authorities. It is not as if the workers have been silent — the issue was one of the points brought up during a protest on April 30, the day before Workers’ Day.

Meanwhile, on the white-collar front, the Ministry of the Interior last week said it would allow five types of “high-level foreign professionals” to receive citizenship without having to renounce their original nationalities. While problems remain, this is still progress for both Taiwan and foreigners who want to live here, as it will help the nation attract talent from overseas.

While migrant workers do not provide the “talent” that the government is looking for, they are a vital part of the lives of many Taiwanese and an integral part of society. The nation cannot ignore them; they live among us and their rights are just as important.

This also puts Taiwan’s reputation as a foreigner-friendly nation at stake. How can employers treat their workers so poorly, just because they have no legal protection? How has the government let this problem slide for the past 25 years?

The problem has garnered the attention of the US Department of State, which mentioned it in the Taiwan section of its International Religious Freedom Report. The nation should be ashamed. Nobody should claim that Taiwanese are friendly to foreigners when there is such a stark difference in how they are treated.