The Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit Corporation has long used the slogan "Mass Transit for A Better Life."
Given the recent riots by Thai laborers over their mistreatment at the hands of their employers, this slogan seems somewhat ironic.
"Does it have to be necessary to base our `better lives' on the torture of migrant workers? It shouldn't be this way," Lin Yi-chun (
PHOTO: WANG JUNG-HSIANG, TAIPEI TIMES
The dorm is a distance of about one hour from the city center to Gangshan.
"Given that the Kaohsiung MRT Corporation belongs to the city government and most construction sites are situated within the city, why did the corporation build the dormitory outside the city?" a city government labor official surnamed Wang.
"The corporation's objective was to create a gray area, so that both the city and county governments have difficulties in inspecting the labors' living condition," Wang continued.
Due to the lack of inspections, it was not until the laborers rioted against the management last Tuesday that the inhumane labor practices were exposed.
"I would have liked to file a complaint a long time ago, but I didn't," a laborer told the Taipei Times on condition of anonymity. "Everybody in the dormitory knows the story -- there was a person deported shortly after he asked the management about some details regarding his salary -- and then no one ever dared to complain against the management," he said.
"For example, I hate the board provided, but I never voice my discontent," the labor said. "The meat is not fresh -- sometimes it smells -- and the appearance looks dark. I think they must reuse the cooking oil several times while frying the meat. I don't want to get cancer, so I just go out and get a cup of pearl milk tea and some mantou [steamed buns]."
Aside from the board -- prepaid meals laborers are required to pay for out of their monthly wages -- the firm provides an alternative meal laborers can buy with so-called "coupons." Prior to the riot, the laborers were only allowed to use "coupons" as currency in the dormitory.
Lawon Chaimongkol, a social worker with the Labor Concern Center under the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, showed the Taipei Times the price list for the meals. It showed that a bowl of rice, a papaya salad or a cucumber salad each cost NT$50, while a serving of cold pork or a bowl of beef soup cost NT$100. All the items had to be purchased with coupons.
"The laborers can't afford such meals, which cost two to three times more than those sold outside the dormitory. The surcharge is so unfair. In order to get a sufficient meal, due to the small portion of each dish, it costs a laborer at least NT$200 in coupons for a meal," Lawon said.
Lawon said that items from Thailand such as instant noodles and the like are sold in the dormitory, but are also much more expensive than average.
"What is even more cynical is that none of this stuff is shipped to Taiwan by the corporation. The corporation requires the laborers to carry it for them when they leave for Taiwan. So even though the laborers help the corporation save on transportation costs, they have to pay unreasonably high prices to get the stuff they brought," Lin said.
Taking the Taipei Times on a tour of the dormitory, one laborer, who requested that he not be named for fear of repercussions if his employer learned he was speaking to the media, said that 1,716 people were crowded into four houses made of corrugated iron.
"There are about 400 people lodged in each house when it is fully occupied, with the bunk beds crammed next to each other, leaving only a few narrow walkways for us to pass through. All our personal belongings have to be put under our beds. I can't even sit up straight when I'm on my bed," he said.
"As there is no screen window in the iron house, we have no choice but to close the windows all day to keep mosquitoes out. Nevertheless, once the windows are closed, the ventilation is very bad, as there aren't enough electric fans to make the air move," the labor said.
Wu Hao-jen (
In addition, the dormitory also falls seriously short of sanitary facilities. "There are only three hot water heaters, two of which stop providing hot water after 7pm. There are not enough toilets, so laborers have to fight over the toilets each morning," Wu said. He inspected the Thai workers' dormitory along with the Council of Labor Affairs when the riot happened.
Aside from two billiard tables and two TVs, which are not equipped to receive Thai programs or even local cable stations, there is no leisure equipment provided.
One laborer, who had to spend NT$150,000 (US$4,685) in placement fees when he applied for a job told the Taipei Times that what he can't bear the most is the way the employer manages their wages.
"I can work hard and put up with the bad living conditions," he said.
"However, there are so many penalty clauses -- such as NT$3,000 for using a mobile phone or NT$3,000 for riding a bicycle and so on -- it is really too much."
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