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

For a year, Ramos performed farm duties such as planting rice and feeding farm animals, in addition to serving as a domestic helper and caregiver to a supposedly elderly ward — one who was in fact only in her mid-50s and entirely physically able.

In 365 days of employment, Ramos says she had one day off, Jan. 25, a single reprieve she won only by complaining to her manpower agency in the Philippines. She did not run away, but visited a park in Zhongli, the first time she was allowed off her employer’s property.

Later, when Ramos’ ward became physically abusive, she reported her treatment to the Miaoli branch of the Ministry of Labor. With assistance from the SPA, she was able to safely leave the farm and take refuge at the SPA shelter.


Fortunately, there is a growing number of young Taiwanese taking interest in the rights of migrant workers. Catta Chou, 25, was first drawn to the cause when she went to Australia on a working holiday visa two years ago, finding work through a Taiwanese broker as a supermarket cashier. Upon receiving her first paycheck, she realized that her wages were not what she had been promised. Equipped with a tenacious spirit and drawing on her fluency in English, Chou raised the issue both in Australia and Taiwan. For seeking only what she was owed, she was terminated.

Upon staging a press conference to tell her story, Chou found that the Taiwanese media were less than sympathetic to her plight.

“They portrayed me as a very annoying girl,” she says bitterly. “The media was like, ‘This girl is making something out of nothing.’”

That experience inspired Chou to volunteer as a translator with the SPA and MKT, providing a much-needed service in mediation between migrant workers, their Taiwanese brokers and the Ministry of Labor. But mere advocacy for equal rights, she says, is not enough. For true progress to be made, prevailing attitudes toward those who raise their voice and ask only for their basic human rights need to change.


Oftentimes, Chou says, Taiwanese think that Southeast Asian workers flee their employers simply because running away is part of their culture. That perception exists because people don’t know what happened before the workers escaped. She adds that education and telling the full stories of the workers is key.

On a weekend last month in Zhongli, at the same park Ramos visited on her only day off last year, the third annual Winder Music Festival (發條音樂節) attracted bands and music fans from around Taiwan. At the park’s south end, amid a string of booths erected for various NGOs to promote their causes, the women of MKT shared their stories of abuse while working in Taiwan.

One of the people who helped arrange the platform to share these stories is Winder Festival volunteer Tseng Yi-yun (曾逸芸). The 18-year-old high school student witnessed firsthand the mistreatment of migrant workers when she saw an uncle abuse an Indonesian domestic helper. Tseng, who thought of the helper as a friend, helped her get away to safety. She has since been seeking more avenues to aid the voiceless.

“It won’t really change if we’re doing this,” Tseng says of merely helping migrant workers get away from abusive conditions. “The values ... [of Taiwanese] won’t really change. I’m trying to change the values.”

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