by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: TIWA/Facebook

FILIPINO MIGRANT workers and their advocates demonstrated outside of the Control Yuan earlier this week, criticizing the Kaohsiung Bureau of Labor Affairs (BLA) and Kaohsiung Export Processing Zone Administration (EPZA) ’s handling of labor complaints about the WUS Printed Electronics Company. 

In particular, complaints were filed by 31 Filipino workers at WUS regarding unclear pay standards for their work. Workers were not given clear regulations on the salaries they were being paid, as well that deductions for food, lodging, and other costs were taken out of their pay. Likewise, pay slips were only provided in Chinese, although it is stipulated legally that migrant workers should receive pay slips in Chinese and their native language. Migrant worker advocates from the Taiwan International Workers’ Association (TIWA) state that this illustrates the BLA is not aware of basic labor regulations. 

According to the workers, though such issues fall under the purview of the BLA, the BLA instead tried to deflect responsibility onto the EPZA. The EPZA, for its part, did not take the view that there were any workplace violations, except for lack of overtime pay, and tried to send migrant workers back to the BLA. This occurred despite the fact that the BLA should be the authority that deals with labor issues in Kaohsiung, for migrant workers and other groups.  

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for government bureaus handling issues related to migrant workers to try and deflect responsibility onto each other, so as to avoid taking any action themselves. Moreover, another issue proves when different sections of government engage in bureaucratic turf wars, sometimes interfering with each others’ purviews. 

Workers are critical of a lack of investigation into workplace abuses and labor law violations at WUS reported to the 1955 hotline. The 1955 hotline for migrant workers has itself been criticized for being overly bureaucratic or sometimes not providing adequate language assistance services to migrant workers.

Livestream of the protest

In this case, workers originally sought to complain to 1955 in April. However, translation services were not provided for migrant workers by the city government, though a letter was sent to the workplace. To this extent, the employer subsequently tried to retaliate against workers it viewed as leaders of the labor action by claiming they had used the company’s printers without permission, even though it is common for workers to use printers to print workplace schedules or other documents. 

Some workers were forced to print and sign resignation notices, or had their work documents confiscated and told not to return to work. Staff at the Kaohsiung BLA were unsympathetic, with comments suggesting that they viewed workers as partying and not taking their work seriously, or that they viewed the issue as resolved in spite of that workers had still not succeeded in ensuring that their complaints were taken seriously and that the employer had sought to retaliate against those it considered worker organizers. 

More generally, TIWA has raised that while export zones have been established in Taiwan for decades, there are often no language services provided for migrant workers. This is also true in Kaohsiung. 

Historically, migrant workers in factories have received the least amount of attention in Taiwan. This is due to documentation by international NGOs of conditions of modern slavery that take place on the high seas for migrant fishermen, while migrant workers that work in homes as domestic workers or take care of the elderly are visible in urban spaces. By contrast, many factory workers work in factory sites located in the remote countryside, which can make it difficult for them to contact migrant worker organizations or labor authorities. Furthermore, it is broadly the case that language services for migrant workers are lacking, including during inspections of workplace violations. 

Evidently, efforts seeking justice have been stymied by government bureaucracy, inaction, or even condescension. Indeed, the government’s handling of migrant worker issues is sometimes influenced by the fact that government workers may themselves have prejudiced views toward migrant workers, viewing them as lazy, and automatically taking the side of their Taiwanese employers. Perhaps that is also the case with the Kaohsiung BLA. 

It is to be seen whether further demonstrations or other actions lead to greater attention to the matter. TIWA and migrant worker groups were likely hoping to pressure the Control Yuan into taking action on the issue, seeing as the Control Yuan has condemned inaction on migrant worker issues in the past. For its part, the Control Yuan has stated that it accepted a petition from migrant workers, but had not yet made a decision on the matter. 

No more articles