Saturday, July 17, 2021

Not being racist is free, but some companies still insist on skirting the law


Update: very soon after the original post, Wistron changed their policy and now, they only lock employees in their dorms most of the time, rather than almost all the time! The new notice is above. It's not a big improvement. Do better, Wistron.

The original notice and post are below.

Over two weeks ago, the Ministry of Labor announced that companies who restrict the freedom of movement of their employees (such as factory workers in a company dormitory) are in violation of the law, and any such restrictions will be "regarded as a serious matter".

While in theory this applies to all employees, it's common knowledge in Taiwan that the dormitory residents are almost entirely (if not entirely) foreign workers from Southeast Asia, and their rights are the ones being restricted. In fact, the MOL pointed out that this is also specifically a violation of laws pertaining to hiring foreign workers, and that the company could see its permit to employ such workers, and the quota they are able to employ revoked. The UDN article above also mentions possible prison terms.

That doesn't seem to have stopped some companies, however. I knew something was amiss when I heard that some workers were being allowed out for just 45 minutes a day.  This is despite Miaoli County (the worst offender, but not the only one) being "reminded" by the central government to follow the law, and the county government subsequently ending the restrictions on foreign workers' movements. 

The government never said anything about 45 minutes a day that I could find, but it turns out these are restrictions coming from the companies. Other than a tweet from a friend that this was the news going around, I couldn't prove it until now, however. 

It seems Wistron -- a company I have worked with before, so I hope a few of my former contacts are reading this -- is one such company, restricting dormitory residents to leaving the dorms in at least one location for no longer than 60 minutes a day. You can read the notice yourself up above. It's dated July 13, so well after they would have received notification that they cannot restrict workers' freedom of movement.

Upon hearing that it was illegal to lock foreign workers in dormitories, apparently some companies are trying to skirt the law by allowing them to leave in very restricted time frames. I suspect this might still be illegal, as according to UDN the law requires "freedom of movement" and treating all workers the same regardless of nationality (which would also imply that it's illegal to restrict workers residing in dorms over ones who have their own accommodation). As most if not all dorm residents are foreign workers, it amounts to treating foreign workers differently, and still is a restriction on "freedom of movement", just a less harsh one. 

There's a good legal case to be made here that these companies are still acting illegally, and should be held accountable. (I am not a lawyer, but it certainly does seem like there's something here to go on). 

At the very least, companies like Wistron are violating the spirit of the law, if not the letter of it, and I must hope that that's not enough of a loophole to keep them out of trouble. 

It's still frustrating that there isn't much the rest of us can do about this. However, if you would like to donate to organizations fighting this sort of discrimination, you can do so here (one of the choices works with migrant workers) with a credit or debit card. This site makes it easy to do in English. If you are in Taiwan, you can make a bank transfer donation to TIWA here (TIWA is the Taiwan International Workers' Association). There's also a monthly donation option but it's a bit more complicated.

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