Scores of migrant workers and workers’ rights advocates rallied outside the Ministry of Labor in Taipei yesterday to mark International Workers’ Day, which was on Friday, calling on the government to guarantee safer working conditions for migrant workers.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some employers have barred their workers from going outside, while other workers have been unable to return to their jobs in Taiwan or visit their home countries, said the Migrants Empowerment Network in Taiwan (MENT), which organized the demonstration.
The pandemic has resulted in blue-collar migrant workers, who were already “at the bottom of society,” facing even harsher conditions, said MENT, an alliance of migrant workers’ groups founded by the Taiwan International Workers’ Association.
At the rally, demonstrators carried banners reading: “Say no to human trafficking, overcharging, slavery” and “We are workers, not machines.”
Among the demonstrators’ demands were government regulations to ensure the separation of factories and workers’ living quarters.
Hope Workers’ Center representative Hsu Wei-tung (許惟棟) said the proximity of the two spaces meant that if a fire were to break out at a factory, it would spread to the workers’ housing area as well.
Although advocates have repeatedly demanded such regulations, Hsu said the Ministry of Labor has only responded by saying it would review its “living care service plan,” and that it needed to discuss the matter with other government agencies.
Even if of all the conditions in the “living care service plan,” which he said included “very simple” guidelines on workers’ housing, were met, workers would still be in danger in the event of a fire if factories and living quarters were not kept separate, Hsu said.
Despite advocates’ calls for the ministry to hold cross-agency meetings and talk with migrant workers’ groups and non-governmental organizations, the ministry has “refused to communicate,” he said.
At the rally, an Indonesian woman shared her experience as a caretaker for an elderly person in Taoyuan, saying that she believes she is underpaid for her work.
The woman, who asked to be identified as Anne, said that she earns NT$17,000 without overtime pay, and works from about 6am to 10pm every day.
After 10pm, she continues to work if her employer needs her assistance, she said, adding: “I cannot rest.”
Anne said her job goes beyond care work and includes cleaning, washing clothes and cooking for her employer’s family.
It is “as if the government has closed its eyes” to the long working hours of caretakers such as herself, she added.
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