Tue, Dec 15, 2015 - Page 12 News List

A raw deal

A legal case highlights the need for migrant workers to enjoy the same labor rights as Taiwanese

By Joe Henley  /  Contributing Reporter

PROTECTING THE UNPROTECTED

Shelters have recently proliferated, three of which are in New Taipei City. On a recent visit by the Taipei Times, they were all full — something that Wong says is far too common.

Though the Ministry of Labor offers a subsidy based on the number of workers housed within the shelters, Wong says migrant workers are not at the top of the ministry’s priorities.

“What [the labor ministry] cares more about is the impact on the employer and the brokers,” Wong says.

Migrant workers in one shelter gave a litany of examples of exploitation. Like Aliw, their names have been changed out of fear of reprisal.

Lita, 37, was working in Taichung, ostensibly as a caregiver. In reality there was no ward for her to care for. She was often denied food, and was lent out to others for domestic chores not listed under her employment contract.

“When I first arrived [in Taiwan] the broker said, ‘It’s your first time, so you cannot take a day off for the first year,’” she says.

Renato, Oliver and Nicanor, three members of the same extended family ranging in age from 22 to 36, worked as fishermen in Suao (蘇澳). Working for months on end without time off, they were charged a room and board “fee” of NT$5,000 per month, even though they were told it would be provided free of charge.

Geraldine, 35, cooked and cleaned for an extended family of 20 on a daily basis. After putting in a 16-hour day, she says her male employer would often ask her to give him a massage, and she felt pressured to comply.

legal hurdles

These examples beg the question of what can be done to protect the rights of one of Taiwan’s most vulnerable populations. Although no consensus has been reached, the Serve the People Association is pushing the Ministry of Labor to include migrant workers in the Labor Standards Act.

Other groups, such as the Taiwan International Workers Association (台灣國際勞工協會), are asking for a water-downed version of the labor act — one that the labor ministry has drafted. To date little has been done about it, however.

Statements from the ministry frequently make mention of there being need for more “consensus” from society before any action can be taken on the issue.

As for Aliw, she says the responsibility does not rest solely on the shoulders of Taiwanese authorities.

“Before we come here to Taiwan, the Philippine government should spend time to educate us, to introduce our rights here so when we are here in Taiwan we know our rights if anything happens, where to go and what to do.”

Until such time that education programs and legislation to protect migrant workers in Taiwan are put in place, there is little to suggest that shelters such as the three in New Taipei City won’t continue to fill up with a steady stream of migrant workers, all sharing similar stories of physical, financial and emotional exploitation.

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