Taiwanese groups hosted a candlelight vigil late on Friday to call attention to the long hours put in by employees of local high-tech companies, part of a worldwide action to protest poor working conditions in the information technology (IT) sector.
Launched by European nongovernmental organizations, the makeITfair campaign urged consumers and around the world to participate in the “International makeITfair Action Day” yesterday through street demonstrations and social media.
In Taiwan, at least 100 people gathered on Friday in a late-night ceremony held at a Guanghua Market, a major shopping area for electronic goods in downtown Taipei.
They chanted slogans and waved signs condemning sweatshop factories and excessively long working hours in the high-tech sector.
A member of the High-Tech Cold-Blooded Youth, one of the event’s four main organizers, said Apple Inc is making a fortune from selling iPads and iPhones, but the workers at Apple’s assembly lines in China are not getting their fair share.
Instead, they work long hours for minimal pay, and some sacrifice their health or even their lives in inhumane working conditions.
A number of high-profile cases over the past year have highlighted the plight of workers in some factories in China making parts or finished goods for Apple.
In February, Taiwan-based Wintek Corp was forced to compensate 137 workers who were poisoned during the production of touch-screen panels for Apple products.
At the Shenzhen complex of Foxconn Technology Group (also known as the Hon Hai Group in Taiwan), another big Apple supplier, at least 15 people had committed suicide between early last year and early this year.
Many believe the workers were driven to take their lives by harsh working conditions that treated humans as machines.
The protesters in Taiwan also criticized HTC Corp, the country’s largest mobile phone maker.
They called HTC a “sweatshop” and accused it of abusing its operators and engineers by making them work more than 12 hours on a daily basis, the groups said.
Tuner Kuo, a former HTC engineer who showed up at the event, said he attended because he was thankful for the concern and support shown by the civic groups.
“However, I don’t think HTC is a sweatshop company,” he said. “Compared with other major giants, the pay is relatively good, both for operators and engineers.”
He said it would not be fair to single out HTC, because the real problems were industry-wide and involved the changes and challenges facing Taiwan’s IT industry.
One of the changes is that engineers are given a shorter amount of time to develop new mobile phones. Five years ago, companies had 15 months to roll out new designs, but now they have only nine months, meaning engineers have to work extra hours to meet demand.
“It’s not just engineers who are working past midnight every day. Even managers and general managers stay up late,” he said.
“Most of the engineers are very committed to their job, and sometimes they forget to take good care of themselves,” he said, adding that the government should step in and help solve the excessive overwork problem.