Worker exploitation

A Taiwanese family I know has a SE Asian cook/cleaner.

According to what she tells me, the family are paying around 13k/month for her services. 10k of that goes to someone else (broker?) and she picks up 3000NT each month.

For this (roughly my daily wage) she cooks and cleans for a family of 6 and tends to their large property (which includes things like feeding chickens).

She was crying as she told me. She is greatly overworked (I’m not even sure if she has regular days off, but perhaps she does). The mama in this family is typically demanding, for example expecting her cook, who has very limited Chinese ability, to produce Taiwanese dishes to her specifications.

This situation I think is not unusual. But is there anything I, as a friend of the family, can or should do?

This is fairly typical. I know an Indonesian girl who gets 4 hours off every 2 weeks. And the 4 hours are deducted from her pay! And the Taiwanese complain about how no one likes them…

I heard that the money that goes to the agent is saved for the worker when their contract is up the money (most of it, not all) is returned to the worker. This is so they do not run away and to also help them save money. It is also an insurance fee if they do run away the agent has compensation.

I have heard that the agent does keep a lot of the money too. Maybe for example NT$50,000 for their plane ticket and commission. Maybe it is more. But I don’t think anyone would come to Taiwan to work for NT$3,000 a month. I know it is poor in SE Asia but these people also have pride.

I have heard that there is better work in the factories.

I have also witnessed the maid across the street through their living window I can see that she has to message each of the family members as they watch TV in the evenings. Pretty awful.

One story was relayed to me while traveling in Vietnam. One Vietnamese maid or maybe she was a mail order bride, has to pleasure 3 generations of one country farmer family before going to sleep each night. Awful.

Workers have to pay the agents several thousand dollars (not NT!) before they even come to Taiwan.

Here is a list ofshelters for migrant workers.. One of the organizations can put her in touch with appropriate government agencies.

In Taipei, the Bureau of Labor Affairs has a service center for migrant workers. Workers can call the following numbers for service in their language:

Mandarin 25643157 Fax:25639774
Address 台北市新生北路二段101巷二號 No. 2, Lane 101 Hsinsheng N. Road Section 2 Taipei


Finally, a note of caution. The family employing your friend is likely to inform the agency that you are ‘meddling.’ These agencies are often unscrupulous and may have links to organized crime. So be careful.

Salmon, there is plenty you can do. You could (and should) assist this lady in contacting the representative office of her home country in Taipei. They have officers that are responsible for safeguarding the rights of their countrymen and women who are working in Taiwan. If necessary, loan her your mobile phone so that she can call when she can get out of earshot from her employer for a few moments.

In addition, you can report this matter to a relevant regulatory agency. Most city and county governments have an agency that oversees foreign workers (such as domestic help) in their jurisdiction. If you are unsuccessful at the local level, you can go to the Council of Labor Affairs on the central government level. You would be doing the right thing by pursuing this.

Pretty awful? It depends. Do they pay her cell phone bill for her? Or is she using one of their phones? I wonder what the messages say? ur fud is red-E. Or maybe c u 2morro, sleep tite. :wink: :laughing: :sunglasses:

I wonder, are Taiwanese families allowed cooks? I thought these live-in workers were meant to be for nursing. If so, she’s employed illegally.

I don’t want to take this to the authorities myself because she could lose her job. She has not asked me to help. But she is stranded and miserable in a small town in Taiwan.

I’d like to gather some information on her options and give that to her. She’s Indonesian. Does anyone have any informed information (e.g. phone numbers for Indonesian labor representative / relevant laws) she should be told?

There is such a difference in the way domestics are treated. Do any of these organisations which are intended to protect the rights of foreign domestics actually have any teeth ? When I think of the difficulty English teachers would face in enforcing contracts against Taiwanese schools, and taking into consideration the access teachers have to lawyers and their comparative wealth, I just can’t see how any individual domestic worker could enforce her rights against her employer.

Yes, she may lose her job. Realistically her options are (i) continue to suffer, or (ii) get away from her employers, which may very well involve her leaving Taiwan and losing this job. It’s up to her.

The best option would be to give her the phone number posted above by Feiren and encourage her to call to learn what her rights are.

Foreign worker aid groups have virtually no influence at all in Taiwan (big surprise!). Here’s a country report on Taiwan prepared by CARAM Asia: … Taiwan.htm

And here’s just another example of Taiwanese government duplicity:

Catholic Migrants Advocates in Taiwan


Yesterday morning, August 24, 2001, approximately around 9:00am, a group of foreign and local Catholic priests and sisters together with both migrant and local workers gathered outside the World Trade Center in Taipei.

The purpose of the migrant workers’ gathering was to peacefully express their disagreement with the Council of Labor Affairs and the Economic Development Advisory Conference’s proposal of reducing foreign workers’ basic minimum wages. This deduction eventually will result in cheaper labor and more unemployment in Taiwan.

Fr. Bruno Ciceri, the spokesman of the gathering, read the Joint Statement of the Catholic Human Rights Advocates in Taiwan in front of the media and local union representatives. Later, unexpectedly, he and other Catholic priests and sisters were given a notification by a Foreign Affairs Department police officer from Taipei Municipal Police Bureau. The Notification reads as follows:





In the afternoon of August 24, 2001, Police Officers were sent to investigate - from North to South - the Centers and the Offices of the foreign and local Catholic missionaries. These centers and offices are well known to Taiwan government and overseas NGOs as organizations that have offered tremendous services and assistance to both foreign and local workers.

The government’s action reminds us of the White Terrors Era of the KMT government. It is a clear violation against freedoms of speech and expression. It must not be existent in a democratic country like Taiwan! Moreover, it must not be happening under the reign of the DPP new Government!

We thought that the time of harassment and control on the part of the Government, which was personally experienced by the President Chen Shui-Bian and Minister Chen Chu, the Chairwoman of CLA, was already over.

We thought that we could have openly dissented with the Government on certain issues without being retaliated because we have with us a President who always promotes human rights.

Unfortunately, with what happened today, we feel that the shadow of the past repression is creeping back. We all know and are still fresh in our memory the story of Fr. Neil Magil. He was forcibly deported because he tried his best to offer his services to Taiwanese workers. We do not want to see the second Fr. Neil Magil’s incident be re-occurred in Taiwan.

Nevertheless, were we forcibly deported, we would feel honored and privileged to share the same destiny of Fr. Neil Magil. We shall rejoice in our hearts, for such a deportation will be a sign that we were faithful to our Christian faith and missionary vocations, and that we mean to take the side of the poor and the neglected.

The day when we are to be FORCIBLY DEPORTED might appear to be a victory for the DPP Government, however, it would also be the day of mourning for the Democracy in Taiwan.

Signed by:

Sr. Wei Wei, Rerum Novarum Center
Fr. Bruno Ciceri, Stella Maris International Service Center
Sr. Ascension Lim, Rerum Novarum Center
Fr. Edwin Corros, Migrant Workers Concerns’ Desk
Fr. Peter Nguyen Van Hung, Hope Workers’ Center
Fr. James Sandy, Hsin Chu Migrants

I know in our factories, the workers seem pretty happy. they’re hours are like the local worker’s. i think the major difference is they have less pay and they all live together in dorms. i don’t know if living in the dorms is mandatory or not…but i don’t see why they wouldn’t want to live in inexpensive company dorms (in fact, a lot of single local people also live in company dorms).

i think the main thing is that they have company (as in friends who can relate to them…who speak the same language and have the same culture). a lot of the foreign workers that are employeed by small families often feel lonely; most of the time, they don’t have anyone to chat with.

i know a number of people/families that hire foreign workers. most (if not all) of them paid for the worker’s visa, flight ticket and other various procedures. because this money is not meant to be paid back, these people try to hire through reliable agencies, who will try to find a “skilled” housekeeper (skilled means she – i have yet to see a male housekeeper – knows basic skills like ironing, doing the laundry, washing the dishes…etc).

i haven’t seen any of these families mistreating their foreign housekeepers. most of them don’t ask their housekeepers to cook…because rarely do they share the same tastes. they may technically have longer hours, but they also get breaks during the day (like 4 hours) such that a day from 8-8pm is really 8 hour day. i think it may be simply a different kind of work style than most people here are used to. but for the southeast asian people i work with, working a 8-8pm day is common (i just spent 3 months with people that worked 9am-12pm days with no overtime pay!). naturally, i can’t say i know what the foreign workers are used to in their country. the really sad thing is i found some of these housekeepers are quite educated compared with the majority of people in their country. i know of one that was a teacher (in her country) before switching over to become a housekeeper here. the family she worked for encouraged her to read their english books and look up information online so she can continue learning and developing.
a lot fo the people i know do withhold a huge portion of their housekeeper’s pay. i know of three reasons given: (0) is that there are stories of housekeepers that run away in hopes of higher-paying jobs (1) problems with stealing. with the reduced cash, you know that she stole it if it’s way too expensive (2) the money is sent directly to her family back home.

um…i better stop writing before this post becomes a book…

most of the live-in workers/housekeepers are there to take care of an elderly or handicapped person. take care of can mean anything from cooking to changing their adult diapers. does the family have an elderly or handicapped person? these days the elder person must also be having some health issues (the application forms have been getting stricter and stricter – but you can keep applying until you get it right :unamused: ).

i’m not trying to be difficult, but if she is really miserable, maybe losing the job isn’t such a bad thing. in that since, she isn’t stranded. she can lose/quit her job and go back home. the question is does she want that?

but then again, if she is really miserable, perhaps it is best to leave sane. have you watched the news about the foreign housekeeper that just beserk? it may be the mistreatment, homesickness, lonliness (etc) that caused her to go a little mental.

Ironically, it was supposedly too much stress that made the housekeeper freak out. Talk about poetic justice.

Ironically, it was supposedly too much stress that made the housekeeper freak out. Talk about poetic justice.[/quote]
where’s the irony?

Are Taiwanese families allowed cooks? I thought these live-in workers were meant to be for nursing.

Nope, most of them are maids for all kinds of household chores.
Pretty common in Asia to employ such services - and strangly in countries where people always complain about people in e.g. Europe supposingly earning more money then they do. But hey, maids are cheap …
(So I was told by some locals when discussing this subject.)
You should hear some stories about exploitation and abuse of maids in Singapore and Malaysia - and mainly by Chinese families only. Really sad and shocking what some of those poor girls have to go through.

That said I wouldn’t get too involved myself, especially since she didn’t ask for help but go with the advise above.

If she thinks that she

I would add that the Director of the Taipei City Labor Bureau (The agency whose numbers I listed in an earlier post) showed real leadership after the death of Liu Xia last weekend. She attended a candlelight vigil for Liu Xia held by Indonesian caregivers and strongly urged the public on television to respect the rights and contributions of migrant workers in Taiwan.

i’ve been fired from many jobs these last three years for interceding on behalf of the philipino and indonesian workers i’ve met. Generally, the plight of the dark-skinned laborers is pretty dismal, even in the factories. It’s a simple case of unrepentant racism and elitism on the part of the Taiwanese bosses – because the workers are entirely alienated from the rest of society, the bosses are free to treat them as whimsically and cynically as they might ever wish on their other, native workers.

Even the ones in the factories suffer, although in some ways it’s less troublesome than the women employed as maids. Overcrowding and a complete denial of basic freedoms – mainly getting out of the factory onto the street – are pretty much what the factories are all about. I knew of one factory that had a single bathroom for something like fifteen or twenty workers, and another that had a single refrigerator per dorm-room, something like ten people who only got to go out to buy groceries once every two weeks. When their dorm supervisor – a really good Taiwanese guy, who later on married one of his charges – interceded on their behalf, he was basically told to shut up; he kept at it and got the changes through, but eventually quit in disgust. The workers hated him 'cause he was Taiwanese, and the management hated him ‘cause he took up for the workers’ rights.

There have been many troubles over the years with rioting factory/construction workers – i remember a big one in Taibei, i think, between a band of Indonesians and another of Thais. These problems are not new; eleven years ago i knew a guy from Nigeria who was basically locked in a factory for two solid years, saved up all his money and left with something like only three or four thousand American. There have been many cases of workers having their pay reduced for “dorm fees”, including things like a water bill, cot-space, and even the electricity they use at night to light their work by!

The maids, on the other hand, tend to have it much, much worse. Often the moneys being deducted from their checks are charges added on after they’ve arrived in Taiwan. This all started about six years ago, when the ministry of labor affairs decreed that none of the protective labor statutes apply to foreign laborers. As a result, the maids have absolutely no legal recourse to enforce their contracts. They get over here, have their passports confiscated, see additional “finders fees” added on to their debts, have their paychecks further reduced by unethical employers, and are typically disallowed from leaving the house or contacting other laborers from their country.

This is not so much the case in Taipei as it is in the rest of the island; i’m not sure about Gaoxiong, but i’m positive that this sort of treatment abounds in Tainan, and is pandemic elsewhere, as well. This is simply because Taipei is a much more cosmopolitan city, and the quality of employers here is much higher – having been more out of the country themselves, typically being wealthier and better-connected, and the population density being so great that it’s damned difficult to hide an abusive situation, the folks who work in Taipei are much, much better off than anywhere else on the island.

The Taiwanese are generally of two minds about this; one set will make excuses for the behavior (which, as hard as it is to imagine, they do generally believe) ranging from “Our lives are just as hard as theirs!” to “We’re doing it for their own protection!”, while the other group are typically just clueless about the subtleties of inviting a foreign domestic into one’s household, and are educated badly by the brokers.

Generally speaking, the root of all these troubles lies with the brokers – they are, unconditionally, the most disgusting, cretinous bunch of shit-eating scumbags on the planet. By way of explanation, i’ll just recite the situation that i last got fired over.

This was a Filipina who had been a high-school teacher in the Filipines. She had an opportunity to work at a community college, or come over to Taiwan to work as a foreign laborer. She chose Taiwan because the money was better, and the job that was advertised was that of English Teacher for grade-school children.

When she got here, she was immediately informed by her employer that her “accent was imperfect” (her employer couldnt’ speak a god-damned word of english) but, no worries, she’d be kept around the house. Then she discovered that she was to get up at 6:00 AM to prepare food for the kids and get them off to school. She was then to do housework until 10:00 AM or so, whereupon she would be shipped off to the bushiban. She then worked at the bushiban cleaning and such until about five in the afternoon, when she returned to the house to take care of the children until late in the evening. She typically did not get to sleep until 11:00 pm.

She was contractually not allowed a day off until the end of her first year, although she had received a verbal promise that she’d have “plenty of free time”, because the kids would be going off to school, she’d be around the house, etc. Obviously, she was lied to. Her passport was confiscated, her pay was regularly docked, the boss demanded of my manager to disallow her from speaking to me, etc. Nobody around her spoke english. The children at the bushiban generally ignored her, except for the children of the boss who treated her like little more than a dog, harboring absolutely no respect.

She was unable to leave the position, however – and would remain unable to do so until well into the second year – because she still owed her broker, who was charging her a few thousand american dollars for the “privilege” of his services. Meanwhile, she dared not take any action because, should she do so, she feared she would be fired and not have any means of finding employment anywhere else, since the broker would have a lien against any further employment she might seek abroad. So she tried to stick it out – 18 hours of work a day, nobody to speak to, no days off, and all for something on the order of 4 or 5 thousand dollars/year (after taking out the surcharges added on by her broker), IF she was able to stick out the entire contract.

This woman is, let me restate, not an extreme example. Filipinos in Hong Kong and elsewhere are well aware of the disgusting treatment their countrymen encounter over here, and if one makes it known that Taiwan is your residence this will be made quite evident in their comportment towards you.

The advice above, about contacting their nation’s cultural office, is the best. For Filipinas, that’d be MECO; they are the best source for information on what can and cannot be done legally, and can put one in touch with people who will be able to give you good advice. i don’t know what agency works for the Indonesian workers.

The post by blueface included this link, which basically says the same thing i just explained. It’s a really informative link, so i’ll post it again: … Taiwan.htm

For something really disgusting, read this article from the Taipei Times and then click on the photos. The story mentions an Indonesian maid who was beaten and blinded by her Taiwanese employers. … /17/194873

Photo: … 0000050812

I agree about the brokers (Six years ago I taught a female broker…I quit in disgust) but you REALLY have to wonder about the people here…it says alot about the current state of “Chinese Culture”.