Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Another Migrant worker story...Mexican farm workers in Canada...

A Mexican consulate officially opened Monday in the small farming town Leamington, Ont., to assist the thousands of migrant workers that flock there every year for the harvest season.Leamington -- the tomato capital of Canada located about 50 kilometres southeast of Windsor -- is one example of a Southwestern Ontario farming town that's increasingly attracting migrant workers, many of them Mexican.

The short story goes on to mention some of the issues that have come up for migrant workers.

...the United Food and Commercial Workers' Union says Canada is taking advantage of these migrants. It's suing both the federal and Ontario governments, claiming the workers are left without social or legal support; and no protection from retaliation for reporting an abusive employer.

...Do the problems of these migrant workers sound familiar to anyone in Taiwan?

At least the Mexicans don't have to take out loans with 20% interest rates to pay outrageous broker fees to get into Canada the same as Indonesian workers do when they want to go to Taiwan. Get that full sad story here

Get the whole story on video here
ON the web in electronic print here

Drug dealing English teachers...

Forgot to put this up on Saturday. For those of you not in Taiwan this is new.
This guy is a class act. A Canadian guy got busted in north Taiwan for smuggling drugs into Taiwan in textbooks and running a ring of dealers. As if making money teaching English wasn't easy enough. I am sure his school is going to notice a drop in enrollment.
They made a nice typo on the front page of the print article in the Taipei times and wrote that he was caught with 600kg and not 600g!
Taipei times article

When a tree falls in the forest...do Canadian lumber producers get subsidies?

Canada has become used to taking it many different ways from the US but sometimes we do stand up for ourselves and fight back. The softwood lumber case is one of these issues.

Canadian softwood is hard for America to swallow. The US contends that Canadian lumber producers have an unfair market advantage as they get most of their lumber from Crown land at below market prices. The US took its case through the proper legal channels in the hopes of changing the Canadian system. THE US LOST on every avenue it pursued. They have now decided to ignore the trade ruling and continue to impose high duties on Canadian lumber.
Canadian Ambassador to the US, Frank McKenna was quite...well...Frank when speaking to reporters about the issue,

"You can't have it both ways.You can't carry out your appeal all the way to conclusion and then say when you lose, 'well, that doesn't count.'"It's like playing a game of poker and, if you lose the hand, saying 'let's negotiate the pot.' It doesn't work that way. You lose the hand, you pay the money, then you go on to the next hand."

Rightly put Frank.

As others have already said, ignoring the trade ruling only puts American trust and trade opportunities in jeopardy. What is NAFTA without a process that people are to follow? You don't change the rules after the fact!

US actions here should not be that surprising as it is still the BUSH regime in power. His regime has already clearly demonstrated its propensity for flouting international law and treaties on a number of issues. As often is the case there is one law for the US and others for the rest of the world. The greedy capitalist pig should always have his Cake and eat it too right...oh...whoops... I think I channeled Kim Jong-il through my body for a moment there.

Go Canada!!! In the immortal words of a truly famous Canadian
"Don't let your backbone slide" on this issue and let's stick it to the whiny Americans.

Canada's ambassador to United States warns trade rules could be unravelling
Softwood dispute endangers NAFTA, B.C. chamber writes U.S. counterparts

Friday, August 26, 2005

The story goes on...

This editorial cartoon pretty much sums it all up.
The CLA is the Council of Labour Affairs.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Being a foreigner in Taiwan

Being a foreigner in Taiwan can be fantastic. As a foreigner you are treated like a minor celebrity. People look at you and want to talk to you more than if you were some average Joe and often people will go out of their way to help you even when you don`t really need it. When you have to get something done in an official sort of way like at the bank or DMV you are often bumped to the front of the line. On top of it all you have the luxury of making 3 times the average wage of a Taiwanese person and you don`t have to pay any tax!!(if you do you get it back later)
Uh...Wait a minute....

This is if you are a WESTERNER!!!

It`s a very different story for the thousands of migrant workers here from other Asian countries.

The treatment of migrant workers is a distinct blemish on the labour/human rights record of Taiwan. Migrants come here for an opportunity to get a salary significantly higher than they could in their home countries and they often send most of this money back home to support their families. These workers get by in Taiwan by having meals and board provided for them by their employers and spending very little on anything else. They live to work in Taiwan and work for their families to live back in their home country.

Migrant workers take hard labour and menial working positions that Taiwanese no longer want to fill. These jobs are mostly construction, factory work and domestic service jobs that pay a monthly salary of 15 840NT plus overtime.

To get a job in Taiwan these workers contract with a manpower agency and are unable to switch employers. It is the agency that the worker is contracted with and not the actual place at which he is employed. This poses problems for the workers when they have differences with the people they are actually working for. If there are any serious problems the agency can always threaten the worker with deportation or non-renewal of the contract which could have horrible consequences for the workers familiy back home. Workers are under tremendous pressure to adhere to whatever conditions they find themselves encountering in Taiwan. This often leads to horrible exploitation.

Workers are already being exploited as a cheap source of labour and provide a great benefit to Taiwanese society but the workers must also put up with further exploitation. Often workers are not paid on time and are often not paid for all their overtime work. Often the conditions in which they live are the bare minimum (a bed in a dirty dorm with lines of bunk beds,little privacy, no place to cook or and no AC). Domestic servants are often subject to abuse, sexual harrassment and even rape. It is not surprising that every year their are thousands of runaway workers who decide conditions are so bad they would rather take a chance and work under the table living a hidden life on the run.

Every now and again there are stories that come out in the papers about worker exploitation stories but rarely is anything ever really done.This week was a different story. Thai workers in Kaohsiung building the Kaohsiung mass rapid transit (MRT) system rioted over their working conditions.

The workers living quarters looks bloody cramped, with little privacy from the shot in the Taipei times however this was not what the workers were complaining about.
Workers were complaining because they were not allowed cellphones, weren't allowed to drink or smoke in their dorms, would only be paid for 46 hours overtime in one month (even if they worked 100 hours) and were only paid 5000NT in tokens a month that could be only used at the company store! (The rest of their salary is saved for them. This is common and not a complaint as it helps them save.)The workers also wanted Thai satellite TV.

Is it surprising the workers rioted under these conditions? They were practically indentured servants! They could only buy things at the company store and could not bring in products from outside!

The repurcussions of the riot are still playing out. The company has since caved in and accepted the workers demands. They will now be allowed to drink and smoke in the dorms, be paid cash, and get Thai satellite TV. The company even gave them cellphones however this proved an empty gesture as the cellphones had no SIM cards and no Taiwanese cellphone company will contract with migrant workers without a co-signer. Some Taiwanese officials are calling for those that instigated the riot to be sent home, while the Thai President was on TV telling the Thai workers they should come home because they are obviously not being treated with enough respect. Vice President Annette Lu has apologised to the workers as well.

Taiwan should take this as an opportunity to address the problem of migrant worker rights. Taiwan needs an independent review system that can monitor the rights and needs of migrant workers and constantly keep watch over how these workers are treated. These workers are the silent part that keeps Taiwan's society rolling and these workers deserve way more respect than they get. If Taiwan prides itself on being a democratic, humanitarian state it should address this blemish on its record. Until every resident's rights in Taiwan are secured in the same manner Taiwan will not be the model state it aspires to.
The Aftermath continues
The Aftermath continues 2
The true story about workers--where does the money go?
Runaway workers

Saturday, August 20, 2005

好久不見--Long time, No see!!

It's been forever since I last posted. I have been very busy working some mad summer hours. Thank God I am finally done for a while.
I had been teaching at the Tainan National First Girls School, or TNGS as the girls at the high school refer to it. I had a great time there and hope I can get some hours there in the fall semester. The girls are mostly attentive, with terrific English, a good sense of humour, and good imagination. As always there are some classes that certainly top out over others. Overall it was a great experience. Hopefully I can return.

Cindy and I recently went out to Maolin 茂林 in the last couple of weeks as well. Maolin is a national scenic area in Kaohsiung county. Maolin used to be the perfect weekend getaway because it was only about 1.5 hours away from Tainan. It's a beautiful aboriginal area tucked in the mountains, had some quiet, well sheltered camping spots on a clean river, easily accessible waterfalls and a free hot spring that wasn't all that bad either.
Sadly over the last year Maolin has taken a pretty bad beating. Heavy rains last year completely changed the 11km camping spot on the bend in the river from a small oasis nestled between amongst tall grasses to a barren moonscape filled with rocks, sand and truckloads of wood that was washed down the river. The area that was once lush with small trees, tall grasses and had a river deep enough to swim in is now only a shadow of it's former self with no plant life in the newly deposited sediments and shallow river that is rarely clean enough to swim in.
Since the rains last summer Maolin has only been punished further. The recent typhoon that swept through Taiwan in July smashed Maolin. Large areas of the main road were completely washed away. Other sections of the road were covered by large landslides or have slid downhill leaving the road in a questionable state of safety. The first waterfall has lost the public bathroom next to it and when I was there the second waterfall was inaccessible. The hot spring in the village of Dona which was the main Tourist attraction and helped bring money into the local economy was completely washed away and there is no trace of it left. One wonders what the local businesses that depended on the tourist dollars will do.
When I asked a local man about what he thought he just shrugged his shoulders and said with a blank look on his face, " What can we do?"
I asked him if they will rebuild the hot spring and he replied with a look of certainty but a rather subdued "Of course."
He was already busy clearing away debris from the area above the location of now-lost hot spring.
Aboriginals in Taiwan, as with most aboriginals around the world, are no stranger to hardship. They will pick up the pieces, get on with their lives, and make everything right again somehow. I think back to last year when Cindy and I were hiking in the mountains and we came across old Maolin village. The old village was burned to the ground by the Japanese occupying forces in an attempt to quell revolts by the aboriginals. If they have overcome such devastating experiences before they are certainly not short on resilience.
If you are looking for a getaway go out to Maolin. God knows they could use all the tourists they can get right now. Smashed up and torn apart or not it is still one of the most beautiful areas I have been to in Taiwan. You can still take a dip in the first waterfall as well.
Here are some shots of the road, the 11km camping spot (old shots followed by new) and the old location of the hot spring.
There are also some older pics from last years rains taken by some other foreigner here