Tue, May 07, 2019 - Page 3 News List

Civic groups call for safer dorm locations for migrant workers

By Ann Maxon  /  Staff reporter

Members from a coalition of labor rights groups yesterday stage a protest outside the Ministry of Labor in Taipei.

Photo: Lee Ya-wen, Taipei Times

A coalition of civic groups yesterday protested outside the Ministry of Labor, accusing officials of abandoning promises to keep migrant workers’ dorms separate from factories, saying that the shift in policy would expose workers to deadly fires.

Since a blaze at Chin-Poon Industrial Co’s (敬鵬工業) Taoyuan factory in April last year killed two Thai workers staying in a dorm and six firefighters trying to rescue them, the ministry has released statements saying that it would work toward separating all dorms from factory complexes to improve the safety of workers, Vietnamese Migrant Workers and Immigrants Office member Chiou Yi-chia (邱怡嘉) said during the protest.

However, the ministry in March contradicted those statements by unveiling a proposed amendment to the labor regulations that would remove all existing restrictions on the location of migrant workers’ dorms, she said.

The new Guidelines for Foreign Worker’s Care Service Plan (外國人生活照顧服務計畫書裁量基準) would no longer ban dorms from being built near unsafe facilities, including boilers, kilns and storage spaces for explosives, flammable materials and dangerous chemicals, she said.

Instead, the draft only requires employers to fill out a form that would report to authorities any safety risks concerning workers’ dorms, she said.

“This is the same as the ministry saying that it is acceptable to have workers living in dorms connected to factory complexes, as long as they turn in a report,” she said.

“Overall we are very disappointed with the ministry for trying to change the regulations from banning [unsafe dorms] to requiring employers to submit a report — we believe that would be a step backward,” she added.

Although the ministry said authorities would regularly inspect workers’ dorms after employers submit the report, the government might be too understaffed to complete the task, she said.

In Taoyuan, which has more labor inspectors than any other city, 35 inspectors oversee the working conditions of 111,394 migrant workers, she said.

“Considering that there are more than 700,000 migrant workers in Taiwan, how will the government verify the reports submitted by employers?” she asked.

In the case of Chin-Poon, the factory submitted reports to authorities, complying with safety regulations, but the reports did not prevent the blaze, Migrants Empowerment Network in Taiwan member Hsu Wei-tung (許惟棟) said.

“Because fires cannot be 100 percent avoided, the best way to protect people’s lives is to require dorms to be separated from factory complexes,” he said.

The ministry said in a statement that the amendment is a “more practical” approach, as it would require employers to offer more detailed information about safety at workers’ dorms.

The ministry is still collecting opinions on the draft and welcomes any suggestions, it added.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs said that when evaluating whether workers’ dorms needed to be separate from factories, it concluded that it was legal for dorms to be connected to factories, but added that it would look into the matter further.

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