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


Blogger mixed Vaice said...

Nice post! I got to say I really feel sorry for them....

August 25, 2005 4:54 PM  

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