Editor’s note: This DPA feature article was picked up and published by NONE of the local newspapers, so we are publishing this wires feature because we feel it is an urgent topic to raise with the general public, and too important to leave unreported.
By David Chang
Jul 14, 2010, 6:01 GMT
Taipei – When Tarsinah, Suswati and Wasilah left Indonesia for Taiwan in 2008, they were prepared to endure hardships in order to earn money to send home, but what they found was a violation of their religious beliefs.
Their employer made them work from 7 am until midnight at his textile factory and forced the Muslim women to eat pork, saying he believed it would make them strong so they could work more.
Islam forbids the consumption of pork, which it considers unclean, but Tarsinah, Suswati and Wasilah – who like many Indonesians go by only one name – were forced to eat it over seven months in 2008 and 2009.
After the case came to light recently, the government’s Council of Labour Affairs urged employers to respect foreign workers’ religious beliefs but insisted that the pork incident was an isolated one.
However, labour activists argued that the case was typical of a trend of abuse of foreign workers in Taiwan. Many other problems have not been reported, including enslavement, sexual abuse, low pay, long working hours and no days off, they alleged.
Tarsinah, Suswati and Wasilah eventually turned to the Taiwan International Workers’ Association for help. The group helped them find new employers and reported their case to police.
At a news conference called by the association after the pork incident, a dozen Indonesian workers testified that some of them had similarly been forced to eat pork or even to convert to Buddhism.
They demanded that Taiwan employers respect their religion and give them days off.
Ku Yu-ling, secretary general of the association, said her group has been campaigning since 2003 for days off for foreign workers and maids.
‘Seven years have passed. It is still up in the air,’ she said.
‘We urged the government to apply the Labour Standard Act, a domestic law in Taiwan, also to foreign workers and maids to ensure that they work eight hours a day, must have 10 consecutive hours of rest, overtime not to exceed two hours per day and one day off each week.’
Daniel Bauer, a US national and Catholic priest ministering to foreign workers in Taiwan, has heard complaints about abuse from a number of his flock.
A Filipino maid and caregiver sought help from Bauer about a year ago because, he said, her boss had been holding her salary for several months and she was allegedly being sexually harassed by a male member of her employer’s family.
‘She was afraid she’d be fired if she did not give sexual favors, and she wanted to kill herself by drinking insecticides,’ Bauer said.
Another Filipino caregiver told Bauer that her employer had seized her passport and cell phone and made her work 365 days a year.
Taiwan employs 360,000 labourers, caretakers and maids from Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Their basic monthly salary is 15,840 Taiwan dollars (about 500 US dollars), below the minimum wage of 17,280 Taiwan dollars (540 US dollars).
Many Taiwan employers treat their foreign workers well, and most of those employees use their earnings to help their families and further their careers back home.
‘With the money I gave her and the money she saved in Taiwan, ‘Monie’ has opened two laundrettes in the outskirts of Manila,’ said Hsia Li-feng, owner of a laundrette in Taipei who employed Filipino Ellen ‘Monie’ Alo Mendoza for six years until 2009.
Other foreign workers, however, face discrimination in Taiwan because of their ethnicity, social standing and poverty.
The Taiwan government did not react to the case involving Tarsinah, Suswati and Wasilah until it was reported by the Taipei Times newspaper and the story was picked up by foreign media, especially in the Muslim world.
‘Forcing people of another religion to eat pork shows a lack of global outlook,’ President Ma Ying-jeou said. ‘We are all equal and should respect each other’s culture.’
As for the former employer of Tarsinah, Suswati and Wasilah at the Shin Hua Hang Fashion Co – he and his wife were charged with coercion and face seven months in prison.