So here I am during the work make-up day on a Saturday. This is a fair and legal day for every company in Taiwan to exploit their workers because we get a “make-up day off” next Friday as part of the Dragon Boat Festival. But it is a dated, backward, and unproductive practice, and part of a broken labor system that demoralizes an already tired workforce, and it should be dismantled.
Demoralizing an already tired workforce
There are roughly 750,000 legal foreign residents in Taiwan. All of them are individual people with different viewpoints and experiences. As a platform that calls itself "foreigners in Taiwan" we cannot represent every person at once. In fact, we are just Americans living in Taipei. Some people like to separate foreigners into different groups, but it is important to remember there is not just one type of foreigner, there are many of us and all of our voices should be heard.
Unfortunately, most foreigners in Taiwan are working in inhumane conditions, being exploited for cheap labor. Most of their hardships go unseen and unheard.
This past Sunday, a tragic event occurred in which an Indonesian caregiver named Panti fell from an 11 storey building in Taichung to her death, in an attempted escape from her employer. She apparently accidentally slipped to her death. Along with her body were found a bag of her possessions. She tried to escape many times previously, but was forced to stay with her employer. The security guard at the apartment building was told to block her if she attempted to escape.
Does this sound like a woman with basic human freedoms?
上個星期天，發生了一起悲慘事件，一名印尼護理人員叫Panti從台中一座11層高的樓房中墜落，並企圖逃離雇主。 她顯然意外地滑倒死亡。 隨著她的身體被發現一袋她的個人物品。 她曾多次試圖逃離，但被迫留在雇主手中。 如果她試圖逃跑的話，公寓裡的保安人員被告知要封鎖她。
Below I will give an overview of the current situation of migrant workers in Taiwan, as well as examples from personal stories of the migrant workers themselves, as well as solutions to the problem.
Basic Facts about Migrant Workers in Taiwan:
As fellow foreigners in Taiwan, we care about other foreigners in Taiwan, no matter what country they are from. This is by no means a comprehensive blog, but only written to raise awareness on this issue. There are countless personal stories from over 600,000 migrant workers in Taiwan and statistics that should be shared. Unfortunately, many of these workers do not have a voice or even basic human rights in Taiwan. We want to give them a voice and hope these people are not forgotten.
作為台灣的外國人，我們關心台灣的其他外國人，不管他們來自哪個國家。 這絕不是一個全面的部落格，而只是為了提高對這個問題的認識。 我們應該分享台灣六十多萬外籍勞動的無數個人故事。 不幸的是，這些工人中很多人在台灣沒有發言權甚至沒有基本人權。 我們想給他們一個聲音，希望這些人不會被遺忘。
Discrimination against Southeast Asian Foreigners ：
Many Taiwanese see Southeast Asians as desirable workers but not desirable citizens. This is due to discrimination based on the low socioeconomic status of Southeast Asian countries. Taiwanese people give higher status to countries with stronger economies. Taiwanese value Korea, Japan, Singapore and mimic their culture, while on the other hand they look down on poorer countries.
Currently due to the southbound policy more and more Southeast Asian tourists are coming to Taiwan, but this is overshadowed by the human rights abuses against Southeast Asian Migrant workers. Currently there are 200,000 students in Taiwan with foreign Southeast Asian parents, one in 10. The numbers for first and second generation immigrants is greater than the indigenous population of Taiwan. However, these students are often discriminated against because of their parent’s speaking a foreign language, and thus are perceived to do worse in Chinese language and other studies, due to their parent’s poor Chinese and lack of Education.
Taiwan media is usually unsympathetic to their plight, portraying them as only runaways that do not want to work. But the fact is that they run away usually because of abuse from their employer. Those employers that are prosecuted usually get away with minimal penalties, and if there is a jail term it is usually for less than one year
Coming to Taiwan 來台:
Before coming to Taiwan, many migrant workers must go through an application process, and if chosen, may be required to pay excessive broker fees up to 14,000 USD or more. These workers also need to pay for training. In order to pay for these fees, many of them need to take out loans from lending companies that are one in the same as the brokers, trapping them in “debt bondage.” Some of these loanshave up to 60% annual interest. If they cannot make payments, lending companies and migrant brokers are known to give death threats to the workers and their family.
Exploitative deductions for rent or services that are not actually real are commonplace. Rides to the airport, medical examinations, and help to fill out documentation are often charged excessive fees. For instance, migrant workers are known to have to pay 2000 NT for a van to the airport from Taipei when a taxi is only just over 1000 NT. Brokers often mistreat their workers, and use corrupt practices to exploit them.
Workers from Southeast Asia are not allowed to write paperwork for an ARC themselves, and must pay a broker for this service (even though it is easy for many white collar foreigners to do this themselves). They are also not covered under the labor standards act, giving their employers almost unlimited power to overwork and exploit them. It is simply hypocrisy that the act fails to protect the most vulnerable workers from exploitation, foreign migrants. Although agricultural work is illegal, some foreign workers have been known to be put to farm work when on paper they are domestic caretakers. One such worker, Merly Ramos, happened upon this situation, and was given only one day off for an entire year before she informed the authorities.
Human trafficking happens under the radar in Taiwan through fake marriages, deceitful employment contracts, smuggling, sexual exploitation, and forced labor. Many human trafficking victims are mistaken for illegal immigrants, and are locked away in unsanitary prisons with no medical facilities, or deported.
Foreign Caregivers 外籍長照:
House caregivers have a minimum wage of 17,000 NT a month, compared to the 21,008 minimum wage for Taiwanese citizens under the labor standards act. Contracts with an employer usually last for 3 years, during which they cannot switch employers. Previously after the contract ended, they were forced to go back to their home country, but thankfully that regulation has been abolished as of this year.
During their time of work, many brokers hold onto the worker’s passports or ARC, preventing the workers from leaving the country as well as other things such as purchasing a phone. Brokers often fine runaways or deport them, even though this is technically illegal. While in their domestic roles, migrant caretakers are often victims of sexual harassment, sexual offences, and rape. One such case is Annie, who was sexually assaulted by all five of her previous employers.
A few years ago a documentary about foreign migrant workers called “I have it maid” (快跑三十六小時) was produced to tell the personal stories of these migrant caregivers. After seeing the film, many Taiwanese people were surprised that the situation was as bad as it is.
The film tells a story about a runaway blue collar worker named Vicky and the filmmakers are advocating her story to try and help her. If you have time, please see the film here on youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fq5gkyVlFg
Perhaps modern day slavery is most prevalent in Taiwan’s fishing industry. Migrant fishermen are also not covered by labor standards act standards, subject to exploitation, and have no set minimum wage. Also, rest time and breaks are only set by standard contract. Officially there are around 20,000 migrant fishermen, but organizations such as Greenpeace say there could be up to 160,000. Many fishermen are not registered legally, and are not in Taiwan books.
Many fisherman only stay on the boats they work on and never enter Taiwan, or their boats are registered overseas, so it hard to keep track of these foreign migrant fisherman. The ILO has said that Taiwan's Fisheries Agency's system of management and protection of migrant fishers is "loose and unregulated".
Many fishermen are abused, beaten, cut with hooks, and killed. Once a migrant fisherman dies, the captain has right to throw body overboard, getting rid of any evidence of the cause of death. Many migrant fisherman are exploited in this way, such as this story about 1,000 Cambodian men。 They were originally promised 150 USD a month, then only got paid half, were underfed, beaten, and couldn’t communicate with family. For many, their only escape was to jump overboard.
This last September, it was found that 19 Taiwanese fisherman were prosecuted for keeping a group of 81 Indonesian fisherman locked in a room around the clock to prevent them from escaping. They were forced to work 48 hours at a time with no breaks and for 300-500 USD a month.
The 19 Taiwanese men faced possible jail time of up to 7 years, and authorities confiscated 3.69 million TWD as compensation payback for the migrant fisherman.
Mostly disputes between migrant fisherman and their employers are “hands-off” for the government, who wishes the disputes be solved between the employer and for-profit migrant brokers, who almost always side in behalf of the employer. Often the government will require time cards or pay slips as evidence, which simply don’t exist. Many workers are threatened or even deported for having labor disputes, and many are afraid to talk to the authorities.
Summary and Solutions 總結和解決方案:
Labor conditions for foreign migrants haven’t improved in more than 10 years and new legislation is slow to come by. These problems are not being fixed because government and business want extra profits that come from hiring cheap labor, and Southeast Asians lack money. The biggest problem comes from the broker system which “traps” immigrant workers in debt and exploits their salary. A proper solution would be to get rid of the broker system and let the migrants be directly hired. In fact, broker systems are technically illegal in the Philippines, even though there are many Taiwan brokers operating there. However, abolishing these brokers in Taiwan will be difficult. Lawmaker Lin Shu fen has received death threats from brokers for trying improving foreign workers rights. The brokers have power politically and move to stop all new legislation for migrant workers, as it cuts their profits. They are like slave traders, making money off of human capital.
In September, a “mock” referendum, which would hypothetically allow migrant workers the right to freely change employers was started by the Migrants Empowerment Network in Taiwan (MENT). The mock referendum ends at the end of December. So far, over 90% of voters have supported it. However, what Taiwan needs is a real referendum. For more information, visit their Facebook Page here
The 2017 Trafficking in Person’s Report by the US State Department美國國務院2017年“販賣人口報告”
This report details human trafficking in Taiwan. Due to improvements in the last few years, Taiwan has been moved from a Tier-2 country to Tier-1. However, improvements are still sorely needed. A summary of the report is as follows:
這份報告詳細介紹了在台灣販賣人口 由於近幾年來的改善，台灣已經從二線國家轉移到了一線。 但是，仍然需要改進。 報告摘要如下：
What Taiwan Should improve:
Taiwan should improve labor protection and prosecution for migrant fishermen. Also, There is a long-stalled bill meant to help standardize wage, rest hours, and annual leave for domestic workers, that has yet to be enacted.
This year there were 263 sex trafficking victims, 156 of whom were foreigners and 89 of which were children. The other victims were from poorer areas of Taiwan. Some Taiwanese victims have also been recruited to telephone scams overseas or to overseas prostitution. Taiwan has also unlawfully also jailed and fined trafficking victims.
The report also pointed out that many brokers trap migrant workers with “debt bondage” to control them and extort their money. Those migrant workers that complain are often deported.
How Taiwan has improved in 2017:
Despite the jailing of trafficking victims, the MOF has created a 24 hour hotline for such victims as well as 25 shelters nationwide which provide legal and mental help, stipends, repatriation, training, and interpretation.
Also, in the past year Taiwan has fined 6 and shut down 4 brokers charging excessive fees. In addition, the policy indicating foreign migrants leave every 3 years has been abolished. The authorities have also standardized the Fisherman’s contract, requirements for basic wages, rest hours, and days off, as well as requiring the broker be a company and not an individual.
New Employers are also required to attend classes before they hire on domestic workers.
Summary of Solutions 解決方案總結：
The slave-like conditions and exploitation of foreigner blue collar laborers is a shame to Taiwan. You never hear of any white collar worker runaways because they can change employers at will, but blue collar workers simply can’t. Human rights of blue collar workers need to be brought to white collar level. As fellow foreigners in Taiwan, we should all work together to raise awareness to these worker’s situations and personal stories. Perhaps we can help to push new legislation to protect our fellow foreigners. We should not forget Panti, who died in the process of trying to switch employers, and not let her death be in vain.
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We are US Expats that have extensive experience living, working, and travelling in Taiwan. In our day, we had to learn many things about Taiwan the hard way. But we have come to learn that Taiwan is one of the best places in the world for Foreigners to live. Our blog does not represent the opinions of every foreigner in Taiwan. We are just trying to help others learn more about this beautiful country.