Mon, Aug 17, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Burned by the system

Like other migrant workers in Taiwan, Vietnamese national A-dao has little legal protection, is forced to work dangerous jobs and has to pay brokers NT$130,000 per contract for the privilege

By Joe Henley  /  Contributing reporter

A-dao, a Vietnamese factory worker in Taiwan, has endured two years of constant pain and discomfort since a workplace accident left 80 percent of his body with second to fourth degree burns. He is currently in a legal battle with his former employer for compensation.

Photo courtesy of Paul Ratje

Saturday Aug. 17, 2013, was the last day A-dao set foot inside the Hsinchu marble processing facility he had worked at since 2004. It was the start of another 12-hour workday for the 35-year-old Vietnamese factory worker. A supervisor pointed to a vat of paraffin cleaner, still in its hardened form, and instructed A-dao to melt it down with a blowtorch and use it in his janitorial duties.

He lit the torch and set to work. But the wax didn’t just melt. It caught fire.

A-dao acted quickly, warning his coworkers of the blaze while attempting to retrieve a fire extinguisher. As he did, a coworker kicked over the vat containing the now-burning wax, and almost entirely coating the helpless A-dao, sparing only his back, midsection and hands. Doctors at Tong Yuan Hospital in Jhubei, Hsinchu County later said he received second to fourth degree burns to over 80 percent of his body.

Already fighting for his life, A-dao would soon face another battle in the courtroom.

WORKER’S RIGHTS

In most cases, Western white-collar professionals such as teachers can find employment in Taiwan without having to pay any employment brokerage fees whatsoever, and after five years of consecutive employment, said professionals can apply for permanent residency. Additionally, they are afforded comparable legal protections and medical benefits as Taiwanese.

A-dao, who wishes to be identified only by his nickname, hails from the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. For the past 11 years, he has been renewing three-year contracts with a marble processor in Hsinchu. Until the most recent contract, his fourth, each was seen through to completion without incident.

With the signing of each new contract, A-dao paid brokerage fees totaling NT$130,000 to manpower agencies in Taiwan and Vietnam, including the Hsinchu branch of Kanglin Global Group (康林國際集團). The payment is non-negotiable.

For months after signing the contract, the manpower agencies garnished A-dao’s wages to repay the sum. Original pay slips from his employer showed to the Taipei Times reveal months in which his take-home pay was less than NT$2,000.

For the three months after his accident, A-dao was kept alive by machines at Tong Yuan Hospital. For much of the time he was knocked out on pain medication. During rare moments when he was aware of the agony, he would immediately try to rip out the tubes.

“I wanted to die,” he tells the Taipei Times quietly, nearly two years removed from the ordeal.

A-dao’s wife was soon by his side. During his three months in the hospital, then three more at his home in Taiwan, the trained caregiver nursed her husband, tending to his needs 24 hours a day.

The cost of such care for hospital patients is usually NT$2,400 per day. However, learning that A-dao’s Vietnamese wife would be assuming care-giving duties, he says his employer offered her NT$5,000 per month.

No longer able to work, A-dao immediately sent over half of the NT$800,000 paid out from his labor insurance claim back to Vietnam so that his family didn’t go hungry.

His body looked like one giant scar, which had to be stretched daily, an agonizing treatment which takes up to eight hours. Doctors say he needs years of rehab and five separate surgeries. His employer discouraged his wife to hold a public fundraiser to raise money for his treatment, claiming they would take care of everything.

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