by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Steve Jurvetson/WikiCommons/CC

A NUMBER OF recent incidents over the past few months point to the need for stronger protections for migrant workers in Taiwan.

In the first incident, which has been most widely discussed to date, a 29-year-old Filipina migrant worker, Deserie Castro Tagubasi, died after her legs and back were splashed with hydrofluoric acid. Tagubasi was using the hydrofluoric acid to clean circuit boards at her job in a factory owned by the Tyntek Corporation in the Chunan Science Park in Miaoli. Tagubasi had worked at the factory for three years and was reportedly planning on returning to the Philippines next month.

Zhunan township. Photo credit: 小蒯/WikiCommons/CC

As hydrofluoric acid, which is highly corrosive, can burn to the bone, or affect internal organs, being splashed with the acid resulted in Tagubasi’s death. Notably, Tagubasi was wearing insufficient safety clothing that did not completely cover her legs and hospital facilities in Miaoli did not have the proper facilities needed to treat hydrofluoric acid burns; this required her to be transported to Taipei Veterans’ General Hospital by ambulance, where she later died. The Chunan Science Park is located approximately one hour and fifteen minutes away from the Taipei Veterans’ General Hospital by car.

In particular, Tagubasi’s death raises issues regarding lacking workplace safety for migrant workers in Taiwan. Despite that hydrofluoric acid accidents can be fatal, workers reportedly are not usually issued safety equipment that fully covers their body, with protective equipment only covering workers’ chest and eyes.

To this extent, according to interviews with migrant workers that worked in the factory, only migrant workers handled hydrofluoric acid in the factory and migrant workers were given insufficient first aid training in case of injuries. Likewise, according to interviews with first responders dispatched to the factory, the factory did not administer the proper first aid to Tagubasi after the spill.

Tagubasi’s death, then, points toward longstanding issues regarding cost-cutting by Taiwanese factories on safety equipment for migrant workers, as well as how Taiwanese factories force migrant workers to take on the most dangerous tasks that Taiwanese workers themselves do not want to take on. Tagubasi’s death also points toward the need for improved emergency facilities in hospitals located outside of urban, metropolitan areas, particularly seeing as many Taiwanese factories are located in rural areas, not urban ones. Two factory workers died between 2016 and 2018 from chemical spills, with eleven injured because of spills.

Taipei Veterans’ General Hospital. Photo credit: Ray Tsang/WikiCommons/CC

In the second incident, 32-year-old Indonesian migrant worker Sri Kodriawati, who worked as a caretaker, died at the Chu Shang Show Chwan Hospital in Nantou under unclear circumstances. Kodriawati died after complaining of stomach pains. However, the testimony of the hospital is inconsistent with that of Kodriawati’s boyfriend, seeing as the hospital claims that Kodriawati was dead upon arrival at the hospital but her boyfriend claimed that Kodriawati was still conscious when she arrived at the hospital.

Migrant worker advocates suggest that the incident is yet another example of the difficulties faced by migrant workers in Taiwan, in that they are given lower-priority medical treatment than Taiwanese even during potentially fatal emergencies. Furthermore, many hospitals do not have staff able to communicate with migrant workers in languages apart from Mandarin, something that may have contributed to Kodriawati’s death. The Chu Shang Show Chwan Hospital has not released Kodriwati’s medical records and the hospital is accused of throwing away her medical records because of the fact that she was a migrant worker.

The third incident, which dates back to August 2017, involved migrant worker Nguyen Quoc Phi, then 27 years old, who was shot to death by a Taiwanese police officer under unclear circumstances. Taiwanese police claimed that Nguyen had stolen a car and tried to attack them with rocks, but friends and family have raised issues with this story, seeing as Nguyen could not drive. Likewise, being attacked with rocks seems to hardly warrant responding with deadly force.

The shooting incident came up in the news again in July of this year, however, after Chen Chong-wen, the 22-year-old police officer who shot Nguyen to death, only received a four-month jail sentence on charges of negligent manslaughter. Chen will be allowed to continue to serve as a police officer.

Photo credit: 大摩 Bigmorr/WikiCommons/CC

Nguyen’s death and Chen’s light sentence point toward deep-rooted issues regarding Taiwan’s treatment of migrant worker-related crimes in the criminal justice system. Crimes committed against migrant workers by their employers, whether in the cases of factories, fishing vessels, or even families employing migrant workers, receive light punishments, as also seems to be the case with crimes committed against by migrant workers by law enforcement.

As such, that the poor treatment of migrant workers continues to be an endemic issue in Taiwan may not be surprising. The law itself hardly proves a deterrent and weak or unenforced protections for migrant workers in the law itself reflect the broader social context of discriminatory attitudes toward migrant workers in Taiwanese society writ large.

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