After an officer and a government worker responded to a reported car theft, former factory worker Nguyen Quoc Phi was shot nine times in Hsinchu County near Taipei. Surveillance videos from the first arrived ambulance showed a police officer commanding paramedics not to approach Nguyen because he had not been restrained. The footage also revealed that the government worker was being driven away while the unconscious Nguyen was left untreated in a pool of blood next to a police car. Since then the Taiwanese government had been severely criticised by workers’ union as well as ethnic minority interest groups.
Nguyen’s tragedy was not the first that happened to migrant workers in Taiwan. Supriyanto, died on board while working on a Taiwanese fishing boat in September 2015. The footage was leaked of Supriyanto describing the violence and abuse that he received at the hands of his captain and fellow crew members. He allegedly claimed that the clear cuts on his head and his body were made with fish hooks. Later, his autopsy revealed that the cause of his death was due to a septic shock caused by infection. Yet, the case was quietly put to rest without further investigation on how Supriyanto contracted the infection. The aforementioned case is just one of many cases of abuse occurring in the country on a daily basis.
Taiwan, a major destination for migrant workers, has more than 600,000 foreign workers across the country. These workers are prone to abuses and discrimination in the workplace. As interests of migrant workers are not protected adequately under existing legislation, a dual track salary system allows a lower minimum wage paid to these workers. Thus making them more vulnerable to exploitation. According to activists, migrant workers are often trapped into paying off huge debts to employment brokers. Unable to pay the debt, they run away from their jobs and work illegally in black markets despite the risk of being arrested.
Taiwan International Workers Association (TIWA) researcher Hsu Wei-dung said, “Only when the whole Taiwanese society and government really face up to this problem can we really change the situation.” The cause of exploitation is deeply rooted in racism, where the locals perceive themselves at a higher position in the social hierarchy. Another causal factor would be the competition between local and foreign workers. Even though there is a limit on the proportion of migrant workers in a company, the proportion significantly increased under the Ma government. Local factory workers often have low job mobility as their skills are highly specific and might not be applicable to other fields. The dissatisfaction among local workers are then channelled to migrant workers. This can be reflected by the general abuses and discrimination against foreign workers in the society.
Current legislation is still too lenient on brokers and abusive employers. Moreover, merely legislation alone cannot address the underlying issue of the problem. Migrant workers in Taiwan outnumber the Taiwanese indigenous population and have established a significant existence in the society, yet many still consider them as outsiders and are unwilling to understand them. However, as globalization takes place, it is inevitable that new cultures will be introduced to existing cultures. The crucial issue here is how we can strike a balance between accepting new cultures but at the same time preserving local cultures. It is important to create mutual respect between stakeholders in order to create a harmonious society with a diverse culture.