Southeast Asian Workers Rally to Protest Sexual Abuse, Poor Labor Standards

Southeast Asian Workers Rally to Protest Sexual Abuse, Poor Labor Standards
Credit: Nick Aspinwall
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Migrant workers gathered at Taipei Main Station on Sunday to protest the third-party brokerage system, sexual harassment of female workers, and the government's inaction in affirming human rights for Southeast Asian workers.

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Migrant workers from the Philippines and Indonesia demonstrated on Sunday in Taipei Main Station to protest violence against women and poor work conditions, reprising an event held annually at Taipei’s largest transport hub.

The event, held in solidarity with the global “One Billion Rising” movement to end sexual violence against women, drew attention from passing commuters and diners overlooking from the station’s second floor. The workers portrayed the treatment of a female caregiver in Taiwan, simulating a woman being mistreated by her broker, then beaten and raped by her employer. The demonstrators then danced in unison and repeated slogans of defiance, chanting: “We are workers! We are not slaves!”

Speakers at this year’s event frequently referenced recent controversial remarks made by Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), who referred to Filipino teachers as “Marias,” a derogatory term used to refer to Southeast Asians. “We are hurt and deeply offended by Han,” said Gilda Banugan, chairperson of Migrante International’s Taiwan chapter. “I hope that this kind of racism will end.”

Lennon Wong Ying-dah (汪英達) of NGO Serve the People Association (SPA) told The News Lens that Han’s comments highlighted a deeper culture of discrimination against Southeast Asians in Taiwan.

“It’s the tip of the iceberg,” said Wong. “What he said can reflect the mindset of many people. If a highly educated politician can speak that openly without any negative feeling, it means that [people] think that’s okay.”

“We should try to influence our people to eliminate discrimination and racism. No matter what, all people should be treated the same,” he said.

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Credit: Nick Aspinwall
Southeast Asian foreign workers dance as part of Sunday's One Billion Rising event.

Groups including Migrante, SPA and Ganas Community, which advocates for Indonesian migrant workers, presented a list of six demands: Inclusion for caregivers in Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act (LSA), mandatory labor insurance, inclusion for domestic workers in Taiwan’s long-term care system, vacation leave, a ban on illegal charges by third-party brokers, and paid overtime if employees are forced to work for some or all of their scheduled days off.

The demands echoed previous calls for governmental action which advocates say have gone largely unheeded.

“Almost nothing has changed since last year,” said Wong.

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Credit: Nick Aspinwall
Southeast Asian workers hold signs at Taipei Main Station on Sunday, March 24, 2019.

There are around 700,000 Southeast Asian migrant workers in Taiwan, according to the country’s immigration agency. 380,000 of these workers are women, with 90 percent working as domestic caregivers.

The number of Southeast Asian workers in Taiwan is expected to increase as Taiwan becomes a super-aged society and accelerates its New Southbound Policy, an initiative aimed at fostering closer ties with South and Southeast Asian states and decreasing Taiwan’s economic reliance on China.

Wong told The News Lens the policy must go beyond economic concerns and protect the rights of Southeast Asian workers, citing recent cases in which Southeast Asian exchange students were allegedly forced to work at factories and slaughterhouses for up to 40 hours per week. Private universities were allegedly complicit in the schemes. Tungnan University apologized after an advertisement circulated online touting the willingness of its foreign students to do “taxing, filthy and dangerous shift work.”

“I think this whole policy should be reconsidered and reviewed,” Wong said.

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Credit: Lennon Wong Ying-dah / SPA
Workers demonstrate outside Taipei Main Station on Sunday, March 24, 2019.

He added that while he agrees with government initiatives to foster open communication with Southeast Asian countries, he believes it is imperative to first teach Taiwanese people to see Southeast Asians as equals.

“Racism in Taiwan is still very, very serious,” he said. “It’s not an open topic, like in the West, where everybody will talk about it. Here, nobody talks about it, but we have many people with racist ideas and opinions against those from Southeast Asian countries.”

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Credit: Nick Aspinwall
Migrant workers demonstrate at Taipei Main Station on Sunday, March 24, 2019.

Du Si-cheng (杜思誠) of Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association spoke at the event and noted similarities between the treatment of Taiwan’s LGBTQ community and its migrant workers.

“We [both] work hard and contribute to society,” he said. “But in the end, we still face injustice.”

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Credit: Lennon Wong Ying-dah / SPA
Du Si-cheng of Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association speaks at Taipei Main Station on Sunday, March 24, 2019.

Du said education is paramount to ending discrimination in Taiwanese society. He called on Taiwan’s LGBTQ community and migrant workers to communicate and learn from each other.

“We support each other to fight against this discrimination and make society better for everyone,” he said.

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Credit: Lennon Wong Ying-dah / SPA
Southeast Asian workers stand outside Taipei Main Station on Sunday, March 24, 2019.

Read Next: Dancing to Break the Chain: Taiwan’s Foreign Caregivers Protest Sexual Abuse, Labor Standards

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