Sat, Nov 19, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Labor official promises that foreign workers will get same rights as locals

FAIR TREATMENT Government officials admitted that due to language barriers and discrimination, some foreign workers suffered from substandard treatment

By Jenny Chou  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan will seek to offer foreign workers the same rights as Taiwanese nationals, a Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) official said yesterday at an international health conference.

The forum was held to address safety and medical issues for foreign workers in Taiwan.

"People all have some degree of discrimination in their thinking -- we are only human, not God. But in Taiwan, at least there is a basic standard salary, unlike in Singapore or Hong Kong. We also aim to provide a certain standard of service for the life concerns of foreign workers, " said CLA Chairman Lee Ying-yuan (李應元).

Hsiao Su-jen (蕭淑珍), an official at the Bureau of Health Promotion (BHP) under the Department of Health (DOH), said there are no differences, as compared to Taiwanese nationals, in the types of medical services available to the 315,537 foreign workers in Taiwan.

"Due to language differences however, foreign workers may not get access to all the medical services available. We are seeking to improve language services," she said.

Hsiao said that at present, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) had translators available to provide information about AIDS, SARS and dengue fever, while the BHP had language services for gynecological and obstetric concerns.

Labor Representative Reynaldo Gopez of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office -- the Philippines' de facto embassy in Taiwan -- said that according to a health-profile survey carried out between April and May of this year, most Filipino workers in Taiwan preferred to take over-the-counter medication rather than go to a doctor, due to difficulties in communicating.

The survey polled about 4 percent of the Filipino laborers in the country.

A representative from the Thailand Trade and Economic Office -- Thailand's official representative office in Taiwan -- confirmed that this was also the case with Thai laborers.

The survey also revealed that mental illnesses were an increasing concern.

One of Gopez's recommendations was that social workers be assigned to provide psychological and social counseling.

One issue that attracted a lot of controversy at the conference was that foreign workers were deported if they were discovered to have tuberculosis during their six, 18 or 30 month check-ups.

Considering that workers are screened for TB before they are allowed into Taiwan, Father Peter O'Neil, a Catholic priest based in Taiwan, said the policy was especially harsh, as such workers obviously contracted TB while here.

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