Sun, Feb 09, 2014 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Working holidays: exploitation or experience?

PROS, CONS:The popularity of working holidays amid claims of exploitation in menial jobs has alarmed some who say it shows that young Taiwanese see no future at home

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

She added that holiday workers are more likely to get what they want out of the experience if they have a specific goal in mind.

“I knew friends whose sole motivate for going to Australia was to make money and they did manage to make their first pot of gold within two years,” Chuang said.

Another holiday worker, Eric Liang (梁幼銘), 27, chose to go to Germany in May last year because he did not want to work in a English-speaking country.

“I studied materials science and engineering in college, and Germany is known for its research in this field, plus I wanted to become proficient in German,” he said.

Before landing his current job in a cafe in Berlin, Liang traveled to the German cities of Hamburg, Dusseldorf, Aachen and Heidelberg.

“I worked on a horse farm in Dusseldorf, as well as another farm in Aachen,” he said. “None of those jobs was easy, but the experience I gained working on the horse farm was the most valuable because since I could only speak German there, I got a lot of practice.”

Ministry of Foreign Affairs data show that the number of Taiwanese holiday workers has increased from 12,000 between 2004 and 2007 to 65,000 between 2008 and 2012.

There are nine countries that accept holiday workers from Taiwan: Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Germany and Belgium, with the first three as the top destinations among Taiwanese.

Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said in a statement last year that the programs “help broaden our young people’s horizons” and “give them the chance to experience different cultures.”

However, critics say there is a dark side to the schemes, as seen in a story carried by Chinese-language weekly Business Today last year.

The article was about a National Tsing Hua University graduate who went on a working holiday in Australia and whose experience there critics said indicates that Taiwan can now list “cheap youth labor” as one of its prime exports.

In the story, the graduate gave a graphic description of working at a slaughterhouse in Australia and recounted how he realized after arriving there that he could only make money by taking the jobs that “Australians don’t want.”

He also told the weekly of the working conditions at a farm he was employed at, saying: “We got up at 5am every morning and gathered at the taskmaster’s house to receive our assignments for the day. Then, about a dozen backpackers crammed into a van that dropped them off at different farms. The image reminded me of World War II movies I saw in which confused, panicked Jews were sent to concentration camps. This might seem like a gross exaggeration, but that is exactly how I felt at the time.”

Yet what some found most disturbing about the story was when the student listed the reasons why he would rather work in a slaughterhouse in Australia than take a nine-to-five office job in Taiwan.

“I knew from day one that I came here for a practical, but shallow, reason: to make money. It’s not about having a life experience or making new friends. I worked as a financial consultant at a Taiwanese bank for two years, yet I could barely save any money after paying for living expenses, while repaying student loans and my parents,” he said.

Youth Development Administration director-general Lo Ching-shui (羅清水) said that young people who want to join such programs need to have a clear idea of why they want to do it and whether the experience can fulfill that purpose.

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