by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Subscriptshoe9/WikiCommons/CC

NPP LEGISLATOR Chiu Hsien-chih, also known as Handy Chiu, recently held a joint press conference with the Taiwan International Workers’ Association (TIWA) regarding the use of migrant workers for MRT construction in New Taipei.

According to Chiu, Indonesian migrant workers employed as construction workers on the Sanying Line in New Taipei, which will run from Dingpu to Yingge, are paid as little as 9,677 NT per month, which is directly deposited in an account in Indonesia. On top of this, migrant workers faced deductions of 2,000 NT to 4,000 NT per month from their pay for living expenses. To this extent, migrant workers are also made to work up to 176 hours of overtime per month, which they are only paid 47 NT per hour for, meaning that they are working close to 80 hours per week.

The issue affects at least 133 workers. The construction project is primarily managed by two companies, the Taiwanese RSEA Engineering Corporation, and the Indonesian PT. Wijaya Karya, which is owned by the Indonesian government. According to TIWA, migrant workers signed contracts with both companies, but the contracts with the two different companies promise different amounts of pay. 

Facebook post by Chiu on the issue

Chiu has urged that migrant workers be treated using the same standards as Taiwanese workers under the law, as well as that an inspection be carried out into the actual amount of pay received by migrant workers. The Ministry of Labor’s Workforce Development Agency, which handles migrant worker-related issues, has requested that the New Taipei city government look into the issue. 

More generally, while the major migrant worker categories are generally thought of as domestic caretakers, migrant fishermen, and factory workers, there has been relatively little attention to migrant workers in the construction industry. The construction industry in Taiwan has been one that has tended to exploit disprivileged groups in society—historically, many construction workers were Indigenous before the entrance of migrant workers into the workforce starting in the 1990s. 

But the exploitation of migrant workers in construction is nothing new in Taiwan. This is not even the only time that similar issues have occurred with migrant workers employed on MRT construction projects. 

On August 21st, 2005, 300 of around 1,700 Thai migrant workers employed for the construction of the Kaohsiung MRT rioted. The incident took place in the context of the Chen Shui-bian presidency, then the first non-KMT president in Taiwanese history, and whose administration faced the legacy of graft in ROC institutions from the KMT’s many years in office. 

In the wake of fallout from the scandal, Chen Chu, who was then serving as Minister of Labor and later became Kaohsiung mayor, resigned from her position. Chen Chi-mai, who was then the acting mayor of Kaohsiung and is also the current mayor of Kaohsiung, resigned in the wake of the scandal. Chen Chi-mai’s father, Chen Che-nan, who had served as deputy secretary-general of the Presidential Office, was subsequently faced charges for issues of corruption in the construction of the Kaohsiung MRT. 

Indeed, it is possible that issues of corruption are also deeply bound with the construction of the Sanying Line, perhaps with fees deducted from migrant worker salaries going elsewhere. The construction process of the Taipei MRT saw significant delays and numerous charges of corruption and graft. It would not be surprising if this also occurred in New Taipei, which has been KMT controlled for most of the past decade, but had previously been controlled by the DPP during some periods in the early 2000s. 

Livestream by TIWA of the press conference

The COVID-19 outbreak has seen greater attention to some migrant worker groups that were previously not focused on, such as after clusters broke out among migrant workers in electronics factories. Significantly, like construction workers, factory workers are one of the migrant worker demographics that have not seen detailed reporting in either the media or by reports from NGOs and other organizations—at least until the clusters broke out, resulting in focus on how the electronics manufacturing or repackaging lines that make global supply chains heavily reliant on Taiwan are, in fact, often staffed by migrant workers. 

That being said, the memory of the public has proven short, with some migrant workers still remaining mostly confined to their dormitories despite an initial outcry over the issue. One expects the same to take place regarding the exploitation of migrant construction workers in construction on the Sanying Line—the issue will probably receive little attention, because the attention of the public is elsewhere. 

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