Awakened at dawn with violent shakes, Maria -- an alias -- was told by two thugs that she had to pack up her belongings at once and leave the household she had worked for. Maria was forced to get into a car, driven to the airport, and put on a plane that sent her back to the Philippines.
Maria did not know what had happened, and did not understand why she had been sent back. Maria wondered if her mistake had been that she had just had a birthday party with her friends at the Rerum Novarum Center on a Sunday, after she went to her church service.
As soon as Wong Ying-dah (
"The truth was uncovered only after I called the Taipei City Government's Bureau of Labor Affairs," Wong recalled.
"Migrant workers in Taiwan are not protected by Taiwan's laws," Wong said. "Employers or brokers can send them back without any reason. And those migrant workers oftentimes can do nothing about it."
Maria's employers finally admitted that they had asked the labor agent to send Maria back to the Philippines, saying that she was inexperienced in taking care of babies and they no longer wanted to employ her, Wong said.
Wong said that the most fundamental problem behind the riot launched by Thai workers in Kaohsiung and the inhumane treatment that migrant workers encounter is that these people are excluded from the nation's Basic Labor Law (
About 300,000 legal migrant workers -- and not including an estimated 300,000 illegal migrant workers -- have no labor rights. Therefore, when migrant workers undergo unreasonable treatment at the hands of their employers -- such as salaries being cut, pay getting docked, getting fined for tardiness, having to work overtime without pay or having holidays canceled -- few of them are able to contest the injustice.
Although the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) has a counseling hotline for foreign laborers, most of the time they can only give simple legal directions. But ironically, the law is the least likely means that the laborers can use, Wong said.
"These channels are not as convenient or easily available as you would imagine," he said.
According to Ku Yu-ling (顧玉玲), Taiwan International Workers' Association secretary-general, foreign laborers in Taiwan are divided into four groups: domestic helpers, caregivers, factory workers and fishing industry workers. Currently, the government has frozen the quota for domestic helpers; therefore, most domestic helpers working in Taiwan enter the country under the name of "caregivers" -- people whose job is to take care of patients, the elderly or invalids.
"Many female workers thought that they would be taking care of patients, but later they found they were supposed to be servants -- some of them work overtime like a machine, without a break," Ku said.
Over the years, Ku has repeatedly received shocking cases of maltreatment. For instance, one migrant worker was forced to work for about five households while only being paid by one, one had to endure continual sexual harassment by elderly family members, one was forced to sleep on the balcony -- the list is endless.
"However, with no alternative and forced to repay the placement agency's fee, they choose to continue working -- otherwise they were not only unable to make money, but also go back to their homeland heavily in debt," Ku said.
Earlier this year, one foreign laborer who worked in Taoyuan ran away after not being able to stand the overwork and abuse she had endured. Attempting to escape from the police who were looking for her, she fell out of a building she had been hiding in and died, Ku said.
"In fact, the agencies' regulation that prevents the workers from changing their employer is one of the main reasons foreign laborers are turned into slaves in Taiwan," Ku said. Although the riot in Kaohsiung was a dramatic casethat attracted a lot of attention, there are about 130,000 domestic helpers and caregivers that are working in conditions with no legal protection.
"Therefore, let the law enter these homes. That is the key to protecting these domestic helpers' rights," Ku said, citing the Household Services Act (
The bill is now awaiting passage in the legislature.
"It is regrettable that the CLA kept delaying the government's draft of that law," Ku said. "Anarchy can't exist in the sphere of foreign laborers' affairs, and the government should stop treating the policies of migrant worker affairs as a mere diplomatic policy," Ku added.
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