Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Corporate exploitation of the weak in Taiwan

Labor violations by a corporate giant and its employment agencies continue to afflict blue collar workers in Taiwan while government officials make half-hearted efforts to enforce labor law.

Words and images by Don Juan Corzo
Her name is Asmin Paulito. She was a 30 year old operator in a factory in Taiwan. Her superiors told her she was not free to go wherever you wanted on her days off work. They gave her punishments every time she made mistakes. She complained about unfair rules or illegal fees and her brokers said she was wrong.
I have a roommate whose husband works in another city in Taiwan and she's rarely allowed to stay out overnight to spend time with him,” Paulito said. “Rules like that are abusive.”
This is the experience many foreign workers have reported to Examiner in the course of a yearlong investigation in Siliconware Precision Industries Co., Ltd (SPIL,矽品精密工業股份有限公司), one of the most successful technology companies in Taiwan. Some may not recognize the name of this large semiconductor manufacturer, though major customers include Apple, Intel, AMD and Sandisk.

All overseas foreign workers (OFWs) working in SPIL factories are brought from Philippines. The main violation that pushed some factory workers to complain formally was the new no-exit policy, though they have endured other violations for years in SPIL, according to various worker rights groups in Taiwan.
"The new no-exit policy means foreign workers don't have to leave Taiwan and go back to their country of origin to get their work visa renewed to be hired by the same employer or a different one," said 
Director Lennon Wong (汪英達) of Serve the People Association (SPA, 桃園市群眾服務協會), a human rights organization.
Chunshan facility in Tanzi District, one of the SPIL factories and dormitories locations around Taiwan where foreign workers violations ocurr on a daily basis.
Asmin and three fellow factory workers decided to file formal complaints against SPIL in December when Daisy Sy (施麗絲), a broker representative for the Human Resources Division (HR) announced in December the company would not follow the amended Taiwan labor law that benefits more than 600,000 blue collar foreign workers in Taiwan.
On November 5th last year an amended ruling of the Employment Service Act (勞動基準法) in the Ministry of Labor (MOL,勞動部) cancelled the must-exit policy for migrant workers after finishing their job contracts. The amended law also benefits domestic workers and foreign nationals from other Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and Vietnam.
When questioned by Taichung Labor Affairs Bureau (LAB, 臺中市政府勞工局) as to why they were the only ones complaining out of thousands, the four OFWs who filed the formal complaint on January 12th said no one really dared to protest publicly against their employer's illegal rulings before for fear of reprisal by their brokers.
Another reason why many don't want to join the formal complaint is they're afraid that the labor bureau will not really help them,” said complainant Kimberly Carmona. “Most think SPIL will make them leave Taiwan and maybe they can't come back again.”
Like the complainants, many face the prospect of being sent back every month. Besides the possibility of joblessness in Philippines, workers still face greater financial burden if they want to return. The amended law does away with the high cost for OFWs to re-enter Taiwan. Filipino and Taiwanese brokers who process new hires or rehires are losing between NT$50,000 to NT$150,000 per applicant, according to worker rights group Migrante International.
Former SPIL worker Asmin Paulito and SPA Director Lennon Wong (汪英達) were interviewed by Taiwan media during the press conference at the entrance of the Ministry of Labor in Taipei on January 11th regarding the abuses in SPIL dormitories and violation of the new no-exit policy.
We believe theres a division of the money [OFWs] pay the Philippines agencies because the brokers get a portion of the money. Maybe there is a share for the company too. We've asked the Labor Bureau to investigate that too, SPA Director Wong (汪英達) said on January 22nd at an OFW meeting in Tanzi, Taichung. SPA is a non-governmental organization (NGO) involved in fighting foreign worker exploitation and shelters many of them around Taiwan.

SPIL uses the services of three job placement agencies, Mengo Manpower Group (萬國人力集團), Champion Manpower Services (長宏人力集團) and Pan Asia Human Resources (泛亞人力集團 ) in the seven factories it operates in Taichung, Hsinchu and Changhua. Abuses have been reported in MOL and also in the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO, 菲律賓駐台代表處), the consular branch of Philippines in Taiwan. Evidence shows SPIL HR is either contributing to the unfair treatment of the foreign workers or ignoring the way said agencies process and manage the foreign workers.
Our company always obeys and follows the laws and regulation,” SPIL HR Director Grace Chang (張美慧), said in an email response to the allegations of misconduct and abuse within the company. We value our employees’ interests and rights and we never assist or intend to provide opportunity to any and specific agencies to make the monetary income and profits from the foreign workers.”
Director Chang asserted SPIL was still rehiring foreign workers in December and January while contradicting Mengo broker Sy who told several dorm occupants that no one was getting job contract renewals on December 21st. The question still stands why so few foreign workers are being rehired immediately while asking most to return to Philippines first, in order to rehire them.
Newly hired OFWs arrived in Mengo dorm in January despite SPIL Human Resources and agency brokers stating im December they are not rehiring their trained factory foreign workers in an effort to reduce workforce.
SPIL is not OK. The broker and employer have no concern for their employees,” said Assistance-to-Nationals Officer Gina Lin (林秀秀) in MECO Taipei. “Workers are sending me messages from Hsinchu. Most request their names be withheld to save their jobs.”
SPIL's manpower agencies also are supposed to help its OFWs extend their work visas in Taiwan with the implementation of the no-exit policy. Chang stated in her email. “If the company finally decides not to rehire the foreign worker, and the worker intends to stay and continue to work at Taiwan, our company will help to introduce he/she enables to transfer to other company according to the applicable clauses under Foreign Employment Service Act.
Production managers expected us to have our contracts renewed after we signed the forms for rehire,” said complainant Leah Pacday.But the brokers kept those forms and gave new ones to sign with the exit-only option in late December.”
SPIL HR Manager Amber Kao (郭珀華) told Examiner on a phone call in December that HR has its reasons to not rehire employees despite getting positive feedback from the production department. But she didn't explain why SPIL is still hiring many new OFWs in January.
However, Kao and a Champion broker told the complainants on January 3rd in an recorded meeting at SPIL offices, HR would rehire them if they went back to Philippines, contrary to what the no-exit labor law mandates now.
The survey form foreign workers were forced to sign to leave Taiwan with no option to be rehired immediately or to transfer to another employer, but only to return to Philippines to start the hiring process with SPIL again or to quit. 
A production manager said under the condition to anonymity that “it doesn’t make sense to send back operators who are already trained. That's a waste of money and time to bring new workers to teach them the production process.”
Paulito, Carmona and Pacday, three of the four OFWs finished their contracts on January 13th and were granted a 60-day stay by the National Immigration Agency (內政部移民署).
“But the Labor Bureau said they had to further investigate their case, so MOL delayed issuing the official transfer until February 2
nd, SPA's Wong said about the document the women needed to get work with another employer.

Filipino Father Joyalito Tajonera, who heads the Roman Catholic Church in Tanzi District and runs two shelters for mainly abused Filipino workers in Taichung, told the Examiner SPIL and its employment agencies have had complaints filed against them before, but workers usually quit their effort to fight for their rights out of intimidation by brokers, and even by coworkers for “rocking the boat.”
OFWs, who are not being rehired, faced conflicts or threats in the past when they complained about dormitory illegal rules or questioned the brokers unfair treatment of workers, Fr. Joy said.
A unidentified SPIL foreign worker cleans the bathroom as punishment for breaking a rule or making a mistake in the dormitory, an employer abuse and a violation according to the Labor Standard Act of MOL.
Some examples of such dorm rules are the cleaning punishment plus fee and the stay-out request, which employees fill out to be able to spend the night out on their days off for personal reasons.
Employees living in the dorm can only stay out three times in one month, without being told why. Other companies like Canon factories in Taiwan have similar requirements from OFWs too, but they are a notice from the employee to the employer about their dorm status on their days off, not a request for permission. Some SPIL workers go for months, even years, without being approved to stay out overnight for no valid reason. Some explanations workers get are “it’s management rules,” “it’s for your safety” or “you came to Taiwan to work.” Workers are also illegally forbidden from riding scooters or motorcycles, the most affordable and common way of transportation in Taiwan for the working class.
Since many Filipino workers placed anonymous complaints through 2016, HR told the brokers all three agencies had to loosen the illegal restriction on the overnight rule with no real relief. Workers can stay out, but they have to call in to report to the office by 11:00 p.m. And they have to be back in the dorm by 5:30 a.m.
It's so useless because workers are not allowed to own or ride scooters, and if you are far from the dorm, there are no public buses to bring you back at that time,” said Paulito. “It's inconvenient to make you go back to the dorm in a taxi so early wherever you are.”
SPA Director Lennon Wong (汪英達shows MOL Director Shiue Jain-Jong (薛鑑忠) and Section Chief Huang Wei-Cheng (黃偉誠) proof about SPIL violations during a in-house meeting with SPA members and OFWs on January 11th.
Despite paying a monthly NT$100 cleaning fee, brokers also give workers punishments like cleaning bathrooms for being late or even for minor mistakes like signing the wrong log. However, former LAB representative Katrina Lin () said in early 2016 such mandates are “illegal” since they are not in the workers' contracts, SPIL official employee rules or Taiwan labor law.

The brokers charge a variety of fees that are supposed to be covered by SPIL according to the OFWs contracts, including lodging, meals and a round trip airfare. There's an additional signed addendum in some workers' contracts that exempts them from those benefits. But according to SPA's Wong, that extra document is invalid when you look at Taiwan labor law guidelines.
The brokers who work with HR tell us if we complain openly they will send us back and will block us from returning to work in Taiwan,' said Joyce Abad, a Filipina operator who quit her job with SPIL in November after dealing with labor abuses for more than two years.

According to Wong and Fr. Joy, MOL and LAB are hesitant to fully crack down on SPIL exploitation because so few OFWs file official complaints and “there's big pressure to close complaint cases” from politicians and big business.

Major brand name Advanced Semiconductor Engineering Inc (ASE, 日月光半導體), SPIL's greatest competitor received approval from the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) for its NT$128.7 billion (US$4.04 billion) bid to acquire SPIL in November, a few days after the amended no-exit policy went on effect.
On the surface, one of Taiwan’s biggest acquisition deals ends a corporate rivalry and improves ASE's image from a scandal stemming from a much publicized pollution incident in December, 2013 that partially shut down facilities in Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.
The merger approval appears to bear positively for the world’s largest chip manufacturer from international competition watchdogs and if there aren't serious concerns when the bid is completed this year.

One major difference between ASE and SPIL is the former's agencies currently doesn't apply broker fees and extra charges to its OWFs while the latter has done so excessively for years.

But SPIL is not the only company with its agencies breaking the new no-exit labor policy or abusing OFWs in Taiwan,” said Wong. “There are many small family owned factories and big companies committing these violations along with their manpower agencies.”

 Until government agencies decide to diligently defend the weak and confront injustice from the those in power, people like Filipina Asmin Paulito will be one of the few brave ones standing up for her rights.