About 100 migrant workers and labor rights advocates yesterday protested in front of the Ministry of Labor, calling for legislation requiring employers to separate workers’ dorms from factory complexes to improve safety.
Between December last year and April, factory fires have killed eight migrant workers who were living in dorms connected to factory buildings, as well as six firefighters who entered burning buildings trying to save them.
Yesterday’s protest was the fifth organized by migrant workers and labor groups calling for the separation of dorms from factory floors.
“Following our first protest [on May 9], the ministry said in a statement that it would discuss the issue with other responsible ministries. When we protested again on May 23, it said it would convene a meeting with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Economic Affairs to discuss it,” Hope Workers’ Center member Hsu Wei-tung (許維棟) said.
“[After a third protest] a month later, ministry Workforce Management Division senior specialist Su Yu-kuo (蘇裕國) said the department would continue to communicate with the interior and economic ministries, because the issue involves regulations set down by the two ministries,” Hsu said.
“When we protested again last month, Su said the labor ministry would handle the issue with the other two ministries after it had completed collecting opinions from the other ministries,” he said.
“Now it has been more than half a year since the fire. How much more time do the three ministries need to communicate and discuss the issue?” Hsu asked.
Dorms connected to factories not only force workers to live in close proximity to hazardous chemicals, but are also often difficult to escape, as they have limited exits, while corridors are blocked by goods and raw materials, workers said.
An Indonesian textile worker from Taoyuan, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that his dorm is inside a factory complex and has no fire exit.
“That makes us very worried about our safety if there was a fire,” he said.
“We are also unable to rest well in our dorm because the machines work 24 hours a day and keep sending out hot air, which is especially unbearable in the summer,” he added.
“Under current regulations, even when our dorm is unsafe, we cannot change our job. All we can do is go to church every Sunday and keep praying that none of us die in a fire,” said a Filipino worker, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
A survey conducted by labor groups among their members found that one in six migrant workers — or 18 percent — live in dorms connected to factories, Hsu said.
The labor ministry has been procrastinating, because migrant workers cannot vote, he said.
“The issue cannot be solved when all companies care about is profit and all the government cares about is getting elected,” Hsu said. “Human lives should always be valued above money.”
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