Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) on Thursday sought to assuage controversy over remarks he made about Filipino white-collar workers, saying that Taiwanese parents would need time to accept Philippine English teachers.
At a meeting of the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce in Taipei on Wednesday, Han said he feared that hiring educated employees from the Philippines “would cause a psychological shock for Taiwanese, because [they might wonder]: How come our ‘Maria’ has become a teacher?”
The term “Maria” is a slur widely used in Taiwan to refer to migrant workers, especially those working as a caregivers.
Han made the remark after a participant said that Kaohsiung’s lack of highly educated workers is the city’s biggest problem, especially middle and top-tier professionals who speak English and are internationally mobile.
The mayor should cooperate with the national government and local enterprises to bring in white-collar, English-speaking workers from the Philippines, the participant said.
Kaohsiung already has many highly educated residents, but the problem is a high outflow rate, at about 74 percent, Han said, adding that his administration has added NT$27 million (US$873,730) to the city’s original budget of NT$20 million for the implementation of bilingual education.
“This [pushing for bilingual education] is not easy due to the rural-urban disparity and the difficulty in finding foreign teachers,” he said, adding that Taiwan could learn from the Philippines, but parents must first be “mentally prepared.”
Han’s remarks drew an immediate backlash from netizens, who accused the mayor of discriminating against Filipinos.
A person’s value is not determined by their skin color, weight, appearance, gender, sexual orientation, occupation or nationality, said Chou Juo-chen (周若珍), a Japanese teacher.
The majority of Southeast Asian workers in Taiwan are employed in labor-intensive industries, but that does not mean that their countries do not have highly educated professionals, Chou said, calling Han’s comments “discriminatory and ignorant.”
In an attempt to assuage public criticism on Thursday, Han said that his comments were not meant to discriminate against Filipinos.
“We just have to figure out a way to mentally prepare the parents and [explain to them] why we do not look to the US or the UK” for English teachers, he said.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) said on Facebook that the real problem is not “why Maria has become a teacher,” but rather that Taiwanese only want “cheap white-collar employees” from the Philippines.
“What the bosses care about is not professionalism, but low prices,” Lin said, adding that Taiwanese businesspeople have gone from asking for cheap blue-collar workers to cheap white-collar workers.
Foreigners “employed in specialized and technical” work and teaching jobs must earn at least NT$47,971 per month to qualify for a work permit, with some exceptions, the Workforce Development Agency says on its Web site.
The minimum monthly wage for Taiwanese is NT$23,100.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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