Tue, Jun 02, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Voices of the exploited

Often abused and lacking legal protection, migrant workers in Taiwan share their stories with the help of various groups fighting for their rights

By Joe Henley  /  Contributing reporter

Thanks to the SPA, though, Gil and other rescuees like him are learning about their rights — or lack thereof. They now know that the main problem is that they are not covered by the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法), the set of protective laws governing all Taiwanese employees and foreign white-collar workers in Taiwan. For whatever reason — various NGOs believe it to be pressure placed on the government by powerful economic interests that benefit from near-slave labor — the laws simply have not been extended to the Southeast Asian migrant worker community.

Further adding to the obstacles faced by labor rights organizations in securing equitable treatment for migrant workers is a lack of local advocacy, save for a handful of NGOs and church-affiliated groups, combined with the hit-and-miss efforts of the Ministry of Labor.

Lennon Wong (汪英達), international coordinator with the SPA, remains just as disgusted with the deplorable conditions faced by migrant workers as he was when the Taipei Times first spoke to him in February. Visibly animated, he breaks down the service charges levied on the the workers by their Taiwanese brokers.

For instance, migrant workers are not allowed to go to the National Immigration Agency (NIA) on their own to process their Alien Resident Certificate, an ID card required of all foreign residents working and living in Taiwan. Western white-collar workers easily complete the process without much assistance. Migrant workers, however, are charged a fee (in addition to the ARC processing fee) for the unneeded accompaniment of their broker to the NIA.

This isn’t the only case of these workers being unmercifully taxed to death. When a foreign white-collar worker in Taiwan wishes to leave the country, the most expensive means of reaching Taoyuan International Airport from Taipei would be by taxi, a one-way trip costing around NT$1,000. Migrant workers, however, often have no choice but to pay their brokers approximately NT$2,000 to ride in a company van.

Wong becomes exasperated, especially when he says that the brokerage agencies have recently lobbied the government to increase the already excessive service fees they are charging.

“I am really dissatisfied with all of these agencies,” says Wong, his tone filled with contempt. “They have to do something about the brokers, because the bastards are the brokers that exploit [the workers] so much.”

Wong is as adamant about the migrant worker system’s endemic corruption.

“Completely corrupt, yes,” he says.

BLATANT EXPLOITATION

Evidence has emerged that some brokers operate with such impunity that they have no qualms with openly placing migrant workers into jobs in industries that are closed to them by law.

Merly Ramos, whose full name has been concealed to protect her identity, hails from Pangasinan, Philippines. Ramos, 26, thought she was coming to Taiwan last year to work as a caregiver. Upon arrival, she was instead put to work on a farm in Miaoli, despite the fact that the agriculture industry is not open to foreign labor. Ramos, and many like her, worked in the fields, out in the open, for any passerby to see.

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