Holding up signs that read “Say No to Forced Eating of Pork” and shouting slogans such as “Not eating pork is my freedom” and “Religious freedom, basic rights,” dozens of foreign workers yesterday protested their lack of religious freedom in a demonstration in front of the Bureau of Consular Affairs in Taipei.
Led by the Taiwan International Workers’ Association (TIWA), the protesters hoped to draw attention to social problems following the recent indictment of a Taiwanese employer who forced Indonesian Muslim workers to eat pork.
Chang Wen-ling (張雯琳), wife of Shin Hua Hang Fashion Co’s owner, was recently charged with forcing three Indonesian workers who had been hired as caregivers to eat pork and work long hours in a factory for seven months. The case prompted condemnation from Jakarta, which urged Taiwan to pay attention to foreign workers’ rights.
One of the protesters, Tiwi, an Indonesian Muslim caregiver who has been in Taiwan for more than seven years and worked for three different employers, yesterday said that all of her employers have tried to convince her to eat pork and did not respect her religious practices.
“Whenever we eat together, my boss tells me, ‘Even if you eat pork, your Allah will still love you,’ but I always politely tell my boss: ‘Thank you, boss, but I can’t eat pork,’” she said.
Tiwi and the other workers said their employers wanted them to eat pork so they would have more energy to work, but said they wished their employers and the rest of society would hear their pleas for religious freedom and not pressure them to do things that their religion prohibits.
“Many people in Taiwan don’t eat beef because of religious beliefs. How would you feel if someone forced you to eat beef?” she asked. “When we eat pork, our hearts are filled with guilt.”
Yohana, an Indonesian Muslim caregiver who has worked in Taiwan for eight years, said that in addition to being forced to eat pork, she was ordered to sign a contract that required her to take care of dogs, or be sent back to Indonesia.
For a majority of Muslims, taking care of dogs is against their religious beliefs because dogs are considered unclean.
TIWA chairperson Ku Yu-ling (顧玉玲) said the root of the problem lay in the government repeatedly delaying including migrant caregivers under the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) to protect their basic working rights.
As a result, caregivers are often forced to put up with poor working conditions, such as doing things that are against their religious beliefs or working for long periods of time with no days off or adequate time to rest.
“We need to establish legislation to prevent such cases from happening in the future and to encourage employers and migrant workers to have mutual respect for each other’s cultures,” Ku said.
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