Break­ing back for a dream, but not much to show

Mi­grant work­ers strug­gle to save amid low wages and high place­ment fees


Filipino Joe De La Rosa is work­ing in Taipei in hopes of mak­ing his big dreams come true.

Ev­ery day, six days a week, he wakes up at 4 a.m., has break­fast and then bikes to his fac­tory. There he cuts ply­wood and works — for 12 hours.

The hours are long and hard, but he does not mind.

“It’s OK. I am mak­ing money and have a plan. Af­ter I fin­ish this job, maybe I’ll go to New Zealand,” said De La Rosa, 27. He wants to open a res­tau­rant there.

“I can cook, of course. Any dish, I can make it good if I have jalapenos.”

So far, though, he has not had much suc­cess sav­ing up for his fu­ture: in the three months that he has been in Tai­wan, De La Rosa has yet to put aside any part of his earn­ings for him­self.

From his monthly NT$25,000 earn­ings, he has to pay for his room as well as more than NT$1,800 to his Tai­wanese la­bor bro­ker as a ser­vice charge. By the time he com­pletes his three-year con­tract, he will have paid more than NT$60,000 in such charges.

Be­fore that, he had to pay a bro­ker in the Philip­pines a one­time place­ment fee of 85,000 pe­sos (NT$59,200). To cover that, De La Rosa took a loan from a lo­cal bank which he is now pay­ing off. Such bro­ker­age fees are one of the main com­plaints from coun­tries that Tai­wan de­pends on for in­ex­pen­sive la­bor.

Re­cently, Agus­din Su­biantoro, an of­fi­cial from the Agency for the Place­ment and Pro­tec­tion of In­done­sian Work­ers, called the bro­ker­age charges ex­or­bi­tant and ex­ploita­tive. Thus, In­done­sia plans to start bring­ing back its work­ers from Tai­wan in 2017.

But the South East Asia Group ( ), a bro­ker­age firm based in Taipei, de­fended Tai­wan’s ser­vice charges. Chih Ting-cheng ( ), chief of the group’s mar­ket­ing di­vi­sion, said the real ex­ploita­tion oc­curs in the mi­grant worker’s home coun­try when lo­cal bro­kers col­lect ex­ces­sive place­ment fees.

“We can’t con­trol the ecosys­tem in the home coun­try,” he said. “Bro­kers there some­times charge work­ers far be­yond what is law­ful.”

Tai­wan’s Min­istry of La­bor has banned the is­land’s bro­kers from charg­ing a place­ment fee, but al­lows them to levy a ser­vice fee of up to NT$1,800 per month dur­ing a con­tract’s first year, NT$1,700 in the sec­ond and NT$1,500 in the third.

South East Asia Group charges each worker the max­i­mum — NT$ 60,000 over three years, while the em­ployer pays a fur­ther NT$6,000.

The pay­ments go to­ward checks on work­ing con­di­tions, a 24-hour trans­la­tion ser­vice, lec­tures on health is­sues and other Chih said.

But Betty Chen ( ), a mem­ber of the Tai­wan In­ter­na­tional Work­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, said many Tai­wanese bro­kers do not de­liver all the ser­vices they are sup­posed

ser­vices, to. “Based on my un­der­stand­ing, their ser­vices are of­ten per­func­tory,” Chen said.

“For ex­am­ple, bro­kers do need to in­ter­view work­ers about work­ing con­di­tions. They may be re­quired to go ev­ery month, but they don’t. In­stead, ev­ery half year, they sud­denly ap­pear with six forms for work­ers to sign in a hurry.”

More­over, many of these “ser­vices” should be pro­vided and paid for by the em­ployer. How­ever, it is not easy con­vinc­ing the bro­kers and em­ploy­ers to shift from the sta­tus quo to a more eth­i­cal model, Chen said.

For De La Rosa, the cost of com­ing to Tai­wan does seem high, though for now he is up­beat about his prospects. He says he’s cer­tain that he can make the sys­tem work for him.

“Next month or the month af­ter that, I will save my money for me,” he said.

“My plan is big, very big. It’s high liv­ing.”

Enru Lin, The China Post

(Above) A re­mit­tance cen­ter is shown in Taipei, April 8. Mi­grant work­ers in Tai­wan go through a bro­ker sys­tem that of­ten leaves them in sub­stan­tial debt, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to save or re­mit money to their fam­i­lies. (Right) Joe De La Rosa is shown in Taipei, April 6.

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