Tuesday, July 24, 2007

OFWs in Taiwan

Background Information

Due to its proximity to other Southeast Asian countries, its comparatively robust economy, the low unemployment rate, and early development of ties in the global economy, Taiwan has come to be a destination for labor migrants. While it offers work which pays significantly more than positions in the sending countries, it also offers a difficult receiving context where work conditions are harsh and the opportunity for social integration is almost nonexistent.

By the early 1980s, many Filipinos had permanently emigrated to the US and other countries and nearly a half million labor migrants were working abroad as domestic servants, construction workers, skilled technicians, nurses, factory workers, and seafarers. The government of the Philippines, seeing the potential in remittances and reduction of unemployment, further encouraged labor migration as one of its official development strategies (Martin 1993; Aguilar 2000; Tan 2001).

Video 1: Atty. - Fr. Bruno - Stella Maris International Service Center

In 1982, the government established the POEA to promote and regularize a then mostly illegal labor migration. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, remittances from OFWs accounted for up to 9% of the GNP (Tan 2001; Migration News 1999). The Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taiwan acts as the de facto consulate and provides labor and social welfare assistance to OFWs while in Taiwan.

Video 2: Atty. Salud - Labor Atache MECO Kaohsiung

Factory Workers

The rationalized global system of production constantly searches for the most cost-effective ways to produce goods. This has meant moving production to locations where labor costs are the cheapest. Undeniably, this is how Taiwan’s economy was able to grow so rapidly during the late twentieth century. Today, however, Taiwan is faced with the dilemma of either moving companies to China, Vietnam, Malaysia, or other developing nation, or reducing their own domestic labor costs. Taiwan has opted to import laborers from other Southeast Asian countries in order to costs down. These workers, paid far less than their Taiwanese co-workers, are often given the longest shifts, assigned to the most difficult tasks, and are segregated from the society in factory -controlled dormitories. Migrant laborers are unlikely to quit (due to the high fees they have already paid to work).They are not allowed to form unions and have no bargaining position in labor negotiations (neither directly or indirectly through proxies). According to a survey of 389 workers that I conducted in NanTze, one-third had experienced some problem with their employer. The top three problems involved unpaid overtime, “unreasonable” workloads, and overtime paid as days off.

Video 3: Factory Workers in Taiwan

Domestic Workers

Unlike factory workers, the domestic workers and caretakers in Taiwan are seldom allowed to leave the homes of their employers. They do not have the close contact with other co-nationals that the factory workers have in the dorms, clubs, church gatherings, social times after work and even at the workplace. Fr. Ciceri explains: “ As soon as they arrive, they are taken into the house of the employer, and practically they become property of, ah, of the employer. And, ah, if they are lucky enough and the employer understands them, they will allow them to, to have at least a day-off once a month, or every Sunday if the employer is very good.”

Issues facing domestic workers include: long work days and poor working conditions; lack of rest breaks, vacations and days-off; lack of payment; lack of overtime pay; as well as physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Yet, as a result of their isolation, few studies have been done to gauge the overall prevalence of these conditions. In Taiwan, the limited research that has been done focuses on domestic workers who have escaped or runaway from their employers as the result of mistreatment.

Video 4: Domestic Workers in Taiwan

Other Nationalities

Filipinos only represent a third of all the imported laborers in Taiwan. While Filipinos dominate the electronics sector, there are many Thai, Vietnamese, and Indonesians working in construction, in small privately-owned factories, and as domestic workers.

Video 5: Rev. Tiabthong - Foreign Workers' Counseling Center

Worker Enclaves in Taiwan

Filipino migrants in Taiwan, experiencing xenophobia and racial discrimination, look to one another for protection and mutual support, forming a transnational enclave within the Taiwanese society. Formal institutions (churches, businesses, and NGOs) have provided the core of this transnational enclave in Taiwan. These institutions reinforce the Filipino laborer’s sense of ethnic and national identity and providing a social and physical space in which they may continue to perform homeland culture.

Each of the institutions has played a role in this maintenance of culture. Business, often operated by the Filipina spouses of Taiwanese men, provide Philippine products, food, and communications services. Pseudo-governmental NGOs like MECO provide formal legal services and help to arbitrate issues with the Taiwanese government or employers on behalf of Filipino citizens. Yet, the churches (and principally the Catholic Church’s worldwide network of ministries for OFWs) provide the ultimate sense of solidarity and connectedness with the homeland.

Video 6: St. Joseph the Worker Parish in NanTze, Taiwan

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