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

Astonishingly, Comida has not given up hope of finding work in Taiwan that will not put her in danger of being abused. She will try again, for the third time, to land a job so that she can send money home to her teenage son so that he might have a brighter future.

“I hope and pray I can take a new employer, very nice and very kind,” she says. “I need to fight. I need to have confidence in myself. If they see I’m weak, they’ll do it to me again.”

DEPLORABLE WORKING CONDITIONS

The desire to fight for their rights has inspired Comida and a number of women from the Philippines to found their own advocacy group, Migranteng Kababaihan sa Taiwan (MKT), or Migrant Women in Taiwan, an informal organization that works to inform OFWs of their rights when it comes to their jobs, and help them fight back against a system that is largely stacked against them.

Like Comida, members all have stories of exploitation they want to share in the hope of exposing the, at times, deplorable conditions the approximately 450,000 Southeast Asian workers in Taiwan face on a daily basis.

Lerma Mendoza, 34, has also been in Taiwan for seven months. She too was placed by a broker in Taichung solely to take care of an elderly man. However, in reality her duties included farm work, cleaning two houses and cleaning and working in a factory.

Her broker, Tzoong-Tsai Manpower Consultant Co (總才人力顧問有限公司), later transferred her to Nantou, where she was assigned to care for two elderly patients, though her contract only stipulated looking after one. At this job, she was beaten by her employer, struck with a cane and bitten, she alleges. She called the 1955 hotline for assistance, but it took one month for any action to be taken. In the meantime, the abuse continued.

Finally, with the assistance of an NGO, the police were called, and Mendoza was able to go to the same shelter in Taoyuan. There she met the other women who would come to comprise the founding membership of MKT. The women currently staying at the shelter all come from different parts of the Philippines, and between them have worked in nearly every geographical region of Taiwan. All are shackled with huge debts they took on just to get to Taiwan — debts owed to manpower agencies in the Philippines and local brokers, each of which seems eager to point the finger at the other when it comes to predatory lending policies for placement or service fees.

In Mendoza’s case, she owes 120,000 pesos. When she was working, NT$13,000 of her monthly salary of just over NT$15,000 (below the minimum wage of just over NT$19,0000 per month) went toward repayment of her loan. What little remained went to her parents back home, who care for her two primary school-aged children.

LEGAL PROTECTION LACKING

How do employers get away with paying domestic helpers and caregivers below minimum wage? The answer lies in the fact that many of the workers are not covered by the Labor Standards Act, which only has laws pertaining to the hiring practices surrounding them. For foreign caregivers working in private homes, for example, there are no laws pertaining to matters such as their pay, the number of days off they should receive and so on. It’s a system, or rather the lack of one, which allows for rampant abuse.

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