When “Joseph,” a 28-year-old Filipino, left his two daughters in the Philippines to come to Taiwan more than a year ago, he was hoping to earn money to support his family.
Joseph signed a contract in the Philippines to be a fisherman in Taiwan. He arrived in 2008 and was taken to Suao (蘇澳) port in Yilan County. However, instead of boarding a fishing boat, his agent put him to work in a karaoke bar.
“I worked there for three weeks. I kept asking my agent: ‘I came here to be a fisherman. Where is my boat?’” he said.
Joseph eventually boarded a long-distance fishing ship and worked on it for eight months. He worked more than 10 hours a day, sleeping on the floor of the cabin. He had to take cold showers even in winter. The ship only provided two meals a day, either rice noodles or instant noodles. The cost of the meals was also deducted from his boarding compensation of NT$2,500 per month.
After the eight-month ordeal, Joseph said he was expecting a paycheck of at least NT$70,000. Instead, his agent gave him an envelope containing a paper slip indicating his salary for the whole trip was only NT$20,418.
Joseph asked to see his salary balance sheet, but the agent refused his request, asked him to leave the ship immediately and even threatened to send him back to the Philippines. He eventually had to seek assistance from the Yilan County Labor Bureau as well as the Taiwan International Workers Association (TIWA).
Joseph is just one of 6,600 fishermen from the Philippines and Indonesia that have not only been unfairly treated by employers, but also have had to work without labor insurance and the national health insurance, the TIWA told a press conference yesterday.
TIWA chairperson Ku Yu-ling (顧玉玲) said that overseas fishermen account for less than 2 percent of workers from overseas and work mostly in Suao, Hualien and Taitung.
“Their time is spent mostly at sea. They work irregular schedules and do not have many holidays. Nor do they get paid for overtime,” Ku said, adding that employers use various excuses to deduct money from their paychecks and force the men to accept it.
Ku said the employers are supposed to pay labor and health insurance fees, but the information the association has gathered showed that this is not the case. Employers purchase group accident insurance, which is cheaper than labor and health insurance, she said.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) said that fishermen were underpaid. The agents also tried to skim from their paychecks with various excuses. All these help explain the increase in violent incidents at sea, with workers unable to contain their anger.
A representative from the Bureau of Labor Insurance (BLI) at the press conference said they asked 2,500 employers around the country to submit lists of overseas fishermen in November last year. She said they have been asked to pay Labor Insurance fees.
The Bureau of National Health Insurance also said it is compiling a list of fishermen and will make sure each of them is insured.
The Bureau of Labor Insurance vowed later in a statement to step up inspection efforts and punish violators.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHELLEY HUANG
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