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’s broker continued to garnish his salary, leaving him with NT$12,000 a month. But, he says, rehab fees alone total more than NT$15,000. His employer, in a seeming act of pettiness, has even made him travel from Taipei to Hsinchu to pick up his pay in person.

And then his employer cut him off entirely, leading him to take legal action.

COMPENSATION

The struggle to get compensation following a workplace injury is common for migrant workers. Grace Huang (黃姿華), who works for the Serve the People Association (桃園縣群眾服務協會), says she has seen many such cases during her four years of work with the humanitarian NGO.

“Employers tend to refuse to admit it’s an occupational injury,” she says. “Some of them pay the medical bills and salary in the beginning, just in case the worker asks for legal help. But what the employers do is always far from enough. According to the law, the employer should give them the full pay during sick leave and assist with all the rehabilitation needs. The fact is, they will try their best to terminate the contract as soon as possible.”

When contacted, a manager at A-dao’s place of employment declined comment.

A professor of law, who spoke to the Taipei Times on the condition of anonymity due to his association with the case, says that in instances of workplace injury the employee is entitled to occupational injury compensation, such as retaining their salary to the end of their contract.

They can also file for a tort liability, which can be negotiated between the employer and the employee based on the employee’s medical expenses and the level of responsibility for the injury the company itself is seen to bear.

In A-dao’s case, the occupational injury compensation was only partially paid. As to the tort liability, the company refused to pay.

“I didn’t want to sue them at first,” says A-dao, sitting in the shade of some trees in a park in Taoyuan on a sweltering Sunday afternoon last month, his entire body covered by a pressure garment, skin coated in ointments and creams beneath to treat his burns. On his face, now different from the picture on his latest Alien Resident Certificate (ARC), he wears a surgical mask, removing it only to eat.

“I just wanted my salary. They told me, if you want to sue, you sue,” he says.

LEGAL HURDLES

Though A-dao retained legal representation and began court proceedings two months ago, with no hard copy of his contract to go on, and with his employer failing to be forthcoming with it to date, there is only the oral agreement to argue over in court.

The law professor says that even if the contract surfaces, it is legal so long as it is signed by all concerned parties, even if it breaks any of the relevant labor laws.

Regardless, the case will probably drag on for another three to five years. Before the trial comes to a close, A-dao will in all likelihood have to leave Taiwan. No longer able to do the type of work he has been trained for, there is little he can do in Taiwan were he to stay.

At present, the government doesn’t extend permanent residency to the hundreds of thousands of southeast Asian migrant workers who have helped Taiwan’s economy to become the Asia Tiger it is today.

On Aug. 25, A-dao faces the third of his surgeries. Five days before the operation, he will be in a Hsinchu courtroom for another hearing, forcing him to relive the pain of the horrific ordeal all over again.

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