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

Thinking they have come to Taiwan to better their lives, women like Mendoza quickly find that they have been pushed into a debt that, unbeknownst to them, is also in contravention of existing labor laws. In the Philippines it is newly illegal for manpower agencies to charge a placement fee that is in excess of one month of the worker’s salary abroad. In some cases, over half of this fee is paid to the agency’s counterpart in Taiwan, the brokers who place workers in factories, homes and other businesses throughout the country.

However, a law’s existence and its enforcement are two very different things. Lack of vigilant enforcement combined with the relative poverty of the workers and the absence of a substantial support network for them is why women like Comida and Mendoza are far from alone in their harrowing tales of abuse. At a gathering at Taipei Main Station on a recent Sunday afternoon, a rare day off for the migrant worker population, several came forward to share their stories.

BIZARRE STORIES

Manilyn Solis, 25, has worked for four different employers in Taiwan in the span of less than a year. One elderly male ward forced her to live in the same room with him, where he insisted that she undress in front of him. One day, as she reluctantly gave in to his repeated demands, he had a heart attack and died. The family, her broker and a representative from the Ministry of Labor blamed her for the man’s death, Solis says. Later she would be transferred by her broker illegally, without a contract in place, to Taipei. There her employer held her captive as a virtual slave. There was no pay and no food. She starved for two weeks, with nothing but water to drink, before she was able to break free.

Others who have had their pay withheld or been denied pay altogether have had to suffer the added indignity of being sued by their brokers for failure to make their monthly loan payments. After inevitably losing in unsympathetic courtrooms, they are informed that their salary will be further garnished by one-third each month until the loan is repaid in full. In addition, a penalty for non-payment is levied against them. Rather than being treated as victims and shown mercy, they are instead lumped in with regular bill dodgers.

Financial damage may be grave, but it can pale in comparison to the physical danger some of these women have had to endure. Francia Valderama, 36, was forced by her employer to eat only expired food, to the point where she was hospitalized with a stomach ulcer. Not yet covered by National Health Insurance, as she was newly arrived in the country, she then had to pay her hospital bill out of her own pocket.

Thankfully, all of these women, and more who shared their stories on that Sunday, managed to escape. However, once they have secured a new job, which they have all vowed to carry forth in doing, each of their employers will be allowed to hire a domestic helper again. None, to date, have faced anything in the way of judicial repercussions, or likely ever will.

CHANGING THE SYSTEM

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