Thu, Oct 21, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Foreign laborers denied benefits

RAW DEAL Because of mistreatment by employers, overseas migrant workers don't take advantage of many of the health benefits to which they are entitled

By Cody Yiu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Labor-rights groups yesterday urged the government to guarantee access to health entitlements for overseas migrant workers.

During a discussion panel organized by the Alliance for Human Rights Legislation for Immigrants and Migrants, civic groups slammed the government for not ensuring migrant workers took advantage of their rights.

"During their short stay in Taiwan, these migrant workers pay for their public health insurance. However, once they begin to suffer from an ailment or are injured, their employers can just send them home. Basically, these migrant workers are just contributing to Taiwan's social resources without enjoying the benefits," said Alison Del Rosario, a representative of the Hope Workers' Center.

Foreign industrial laborers have to pay for national health insurance and labor insurance, while caregivers and domestic helpers pay only for national health insurance.

"Although labor laws bar employers from dismissing employees who fall sick at work, they can readily send the workers home using other excuses. In other words, the insurance policy is rarely honored and workers rarely have their illnesses treated," Del Rosario said.

Another labor-rights group discussed the reasons why foreign migrant workers abandon their jobs.

Sanctions

"Recently, the Council of Labor Affairs has been considering placing sanctions on Vietnamese workers due to a high rate of abandoning jobs. These workers have been called `runaways,' a word which has negative connotations," said Jimmy Chao (趙俊明), a labor-relations specialist at the Rerum Novarum Center.

"These workers are breaching their labor contracts only in that they are not completing their agreed period of service. However, these people are not criminals," he said.

Chao listed the four major reasons that cause migrant workers to leave their jobs: intolerable work conditions or exploitation by employers; improper management practices at employment agencies which lead to duress; employer abuse; and the inability to seek help when experiencing difficulties.

"Another situation these workers face is that they prefer not to visit the doctor should they have physical discomfort because they are afraid of being repatriated if something is diagnosed," Chao said.

The numerous health checkups migrant workers are required to take do not apply to other foreign employees.

"Before the migrant workers arrive in Taiwan, they first have to have a physical examination in their home countries. Once they get here, they are subject to additional checkups. However, professional foreign athletes are exempt from consecutive checkups," said Li Hsiu-li (李秀麗), head of migrant health and rights at the International Action and Cooperation Team.

Diseases

In response, the government said that Southeast Asian countries were being monitored as potential sources of transmissible diseases.

"The reason why these migrant workers are subject to subsequent checkups is that we are more aware of transmissible diseases that spread from Southeast Asian countries," said Wang Ren-te (王仁德), an official from the Center for Disease Control. "If a migrant worker is found to have a highly contagious disease ... such as tuberculosis, he will face repatriation; however, if he contracts a more minor disease, he will be able to stay in Taiwan and receive treatment."

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