Tue, Feb 17, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Domestic slavery, Maid in Taiwan

Working long hours, physically and sexually abused, domestic workers have little recourse to legal protection in a system that favors brokers and their clients

By Joe Henley  /  Contributing reporter

The women of Migranteng Kababaihan sa Taiwan MKT are working to raise awareness of the plight of Southeast Asian laborers and caregivers in Taiwan.

Photo courtesy of Sherry Macmod

Ruby Comida hails from the Metro Manila city of Paranaque. She is 46 years old, and like many of her fellow Pinays she smiles easily and laughs often, even when recounting dark events, and possesses a strong desire to work to better her circumstances. For her and millions of people from the Philippines, the best way they have found to help themselves and their families is to go abroad to work, to a place where jobs are more readily available, and salaries are at a level where they will be able to send some money back home each month.

This is big business in the Philippines. In 2013, there were approximately 2.3 million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) scattered around the globe, their remittances accounting for the country’s second-largest source of foreign reserves, beating out foreign direct investment in terms of percentage of the GDP. The influx of foreign currency might be a boon to the government of the Philippines and countries in need of a relatively cheap source of labor to build infrastructure, work in factories, and provide affordable health care for graying populations. But for many overseas workers, the dream can quickly turn into a nightmare.

24 HOURS ON-CALL

Just over half a year ago, Comida paid a broker from a manpower agency in the Philippines a fee of US$1,800 to get her a job as a caretaker for the elderly in Taiwan. Like many of her fellow Filipinos working abroad, she did not have such a sum of money. So, the agency gave her a loan, to be paid back a couple of hundred dollars at a time, deducted from her monthly salary of around US$450. The pay, although only about two-thirds of the average monthly pay of a fresh college graduate in Taiwan, is still far above the roughly 466 pesos (US$10) per day minimum wage she would likely earn doing similar work in Manila.

Within her first few months in Taiwan, Comida was placed with two different employers by a local broker, Cheng Ger International Co (正格管理顧問國際有限公司), which also took a cut of the placement fee she paid to the manpower agency in her home country. The first was a pair of brothers in Taichung who ostensibly hired her to care for their aging parents. In reality, she was shuffled between their homes to do all manner of work, on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. However, this was far from the worst of it.

SEXUAL ASSAULT

Though the elder brother treated her well, Comida says, the younger quickly made it known that he expected her to be his personal prostitute. Not long after her arrival at his home in late July of last year, he instructed her to join him in his bedroom. He then proceeded to put on a pornographic film, and removed his pants.

“He said, ‘You can watch. What they do, you do to me,’” Comida says.

She immediately contacted the Taiwan chapter of Migrante International, an organization that assists domestic workers in times of crisis. They in turn instructed her to call the 1955 24-hour hotline for foreign workers, a service run by the Workforce Development Agency (勞動力發展署), a branch of the Ministry of Labor, which handles complaints foreign workers may have against their employers. Eventually Comida was taken to a shelter for migrant workers in Taoyuan. For the time being, she was safe.

One and a half months later, Comida’s broker found her a new job, only to have the nightmare of sexual abuse repeat itself. Since then, she has been back living at the shelter in Taoyuan with dozens of other men and women who have all been victimized by their employers, the manpower agencies that bring them to Taiwan and the lack of any substantial labor laws that might serve to protect them.

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