The plight of Filipinos in Taiwan has been carefully scrutinized during an ongoing diplomatic spat over the past month between Taipei and Manila.
Amid the dispute over the fatal shooting of a 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman, Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成), by Philippine Coast Guard personnel on May 9, the media reported, sometimes inaccurately, that Filipinos were being discriminated against or mistreated by angry Taiwanese.
Yet conversations with Filipinos who have experience of living in Taiwan and other countries indicate that Taiwan is an attractive work destination for overseas foreign workers for a number of reasons, including high pay, close proximity to home, a safe living environment and the hospitality of the people.
Meliza Lopez, who worked in Taiwan for two years as a domestic caregiver before leaving for Canada last year, said that the wages she earned in Taiwan were much higher than what she was paid in Malaysia, where she worked as a caregiver for three years.
The 38-year-old, who now works as a cashier in a fast food chain in Canada, earned about 24,000 Philippine pesos (US$567) a month in Taiwan, compared with 14,000 pesos a month in Malaysia.
Prior to the diplomatic spat between Taiwan and the Philippines, Lopez had planned to help her brother find a job with an electronics company in Taiwan.
She said her Filipino friends who had worked in the electronics sector in Taiwan were able to earn between 40,000 and 45,000 pesos a month.
“I only recommended Taiwan, because factory workers [are] more in demand and they have higher salaries,” Lopez said, adding that Taiwan was safer than many other countries.
However, the family’s plans were put on hold when Taiwan put a hiring freeze on Filipino workers in response to Manila’s response to the shooting, leaving Lopez “very disappointed.”
Lopez, who now earns more than 40,000 pesos a month in her new country, moved to Canada because she can apply for permanent residence there and have her children live with her, options not available in Taiwan.
However, she said she still cherishes her memories from her time here.
Rosalina Cato, Lopez’s colleague at the fast food chain in Canada, said Taiwan’s proximity to the Philippines and the hospitality of the Taiwanese made the country a desirable place in which to work.
Taiwan is just two hours away from the Philippines by plane and there are many Filipino workers in Taiwan, so “I was not homesick at all,” said Cato, who worked in a factory in Taiwan for nine years.
The 32-year-old said she left Taiwan for Canada only because she was approaching the maximum number of years foreign workers are allowed to work in Taiwan, which is 12 years.
Had there been no limits, “I would not have chosen any other country than Taiwan,” Cato said.
For 59-year-old domestic caregiver Taganahan Lilia Tomecos, proximity to the Philippines was a big selling point for Taiwan because it allows her to visit her children and aging father back home every year.
The friendliness of the people has also made an impression.
“All my Taiwanese friends are so nice,” she said. “I’ll never forget Taiwan.”
How prevalent that sentiment is among Filipinos in general is hard to discern because there are no surveys showing the relative satisfaction of overseas foreign workers in different countries.
However, an article in a Singapore newspaper late last year seemed to support the idea that Taiwan, the seventh biggest destination for overseas foreign workers between 2007 and 2011, is attractive to Filipinos.
A Straits Times report in December last year on the declining quality of Philippine maids in Singapore said it was because Taiwan and Hong Kong were attracting the best Filipino workers.
Taiwan and Hong Kong offer maids salaries that are between 50 percent and 85 percent higher than in Singapore and “get the first pick of the hard-working and enthusiastic workers,” the report said.
However, not all Filipinos have great experiences here. Occupational injuries occur because of the sometimes high-risk nature of some of their jobs, and some run into abusive supervisors.
Nevertheless, once the diplomatic dispute ends and the freeze on hiring Filipino workers is removed, Filipino workers said Taiwan would still be a top choice for them.
“Taiwan is a beautiful place and the people here are hospitable just like in other countries,” 36-year-old domestic caregiver Oria Gayaden said.
Meanwhile, Lopez and Cato, who are now working in Newfoundland and Labrador, said they missed Taiwan’s fresh vegetables, tasty food and warm weather, and the friends they made in the country.