Showing posts with label foreign_workers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label foreign_workers. Show all posts

Monday, October 5, 2020

The Taichung City government is discriminating against foreign residents for no good reason

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It's time to complain again. I hate this as much as you do.


It was announced recently that the Taichung City government would be ending its program offering free public transportation for the first 10km of any ride to all passengers. Starting January 1st, the free transit is only available to some "Taichung residents". Of course, that doesn't mean all Taichung residents, only Taichung residents who are Taiwanese. 

Foreign residents of Taichung are out of luck. 

I'm not a Taichung resident, but if you are, you absolutely should complain. Here's a link to do exactly that. Pass it on. 


The policy will still include foreign spouses and students studying in Taichung, but foreigners without a local spouse will have to pay. 

Let's leave aside that Taichung public transportation is a bit of a joke (it's hard to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time and every time I go I'm stuck taking taxis everywhere as I don't drive in cities). This is a shame, as good transit makes good cities for residents and visitors alike. The benefits are innumerable and undeniable. I'll be interested to see if the new MRT line improves the situation. 

Let's focus instead on the biggest impact: foreign blue-collar workers, typically factory workers and caregivers/home health aides. 

For "us" (relatively comfortable members of the foreign community who aren't going to hurt from having to pay a small amount for public transit), the insult is more symbolic. For me, it's entirely symbolic: I don't live in Taichung so I'd have to pay regardless, and I'm fine with that. 

For foreign residents who are routinely underpaid, work long hours and are more likely to rely on public transportation on a tight budget, the difference between being able to use the system for free like any other Taichung resident and being asked to pay is likely to exacerbate real struggles. 

As with every city in Taiwan, Taichung needs these workers. They are part of the backbone of a city's workforce. Here in Taipei, I don't know how my local community, full of senior citizens, would function without the large number of caregivers. Taichung's industrial centers surely need them as well. They are residents too, and it's offensive to treat them as outsiders, asking them pay for a service that's free for other residents, all while paying them below-average wages. 

Most visitors will bring or rent their own transportation, or use taxis like me. That means the vast majority of people asked to pay will still be Taichung residents -- just not Taiwanese ones. 

It's not a bad idea to charge for public transit, but it is deeply unfair to ask only some residents to pay, especially when so many of those residents struggle more than their Taiwanese neighbors.

Even though for us privileged foreigners, the issue is the principle and not the actual money involved, it's still offensive. We've been through this before -- again, again, and again. At this point, it's clear that forgetting that foreigners reside in Taiwan too, and we depend on the services that our taxes help pay for too, is either deliberate or deliberately obtuse.

In short, I am extremely tired of the whole "we forgot you guys existed!" game. It's getting old and it's got to stop. Especially when you don't know when the exclusion is deliberate and when your communities are just...forgotten. 

Plus, it reeks of a localist mindset - the only residents of Taiwan who matter are Taiwanese, apparently - that won't help Taiwan in its efforts to reach out internationally. Taiwan not only needs its local workers, both the blue-collar workers that basically keep Taiwan running and the white-collar ones who at the very least pay taxes and are an integral part of the economy, but we're also a strong source of soft power abroad. Some (like me) are privileged and some are underprivileged (a situation which really must be dealt with), but along with locals, we are all residents and we should all be in this together, and be a force that is good for Taiwan together. If the truth is "Taiwan for Taiwanese only and foreigners are only welcome to a certain extent, for what they can give us, but we'll shortchange them at every opportunity"...well, that's just not good for the country. 

And there's no good reason for it. Why can't Taichung residency be determined by the address on your ARC? Why include students (meaning that you're willing to include people without a local household registration) but not foreigners who've lived here for longer? If it's because "students are usually on a budget", well, blue-collar foreign workers are too because they're so underpaid so that's not an excuse either. I could understand making it free for all residents but charging visitors, but this is just plain discrimination as it's not going to be free for all residents! 

Yet it may be free for some visitors -- if your household registration is in Taichung it won't matter if you live in a different city, you'll get the benefit while plenty of actual Taichung residents won't. This isn't a "help Taichungers" strategy. It's an anti-foreigner one.

In short, Taiwan is never going to reach out to the international community abroad effectively if it can't even reach out to the international community locally. If it still forgets -- or stubbornly insists -- that we don't matter, or we don't exist, or that double-standard treatment for different residents is acceptable, or that some residents are more "real" residents than others.

It's not acceptable. It has to stop. 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Officially on hiatus - enjoy some links!

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I've been clear on Lao Ren Cha's Facebook page that I'm unable to update regularly as I clear the home stretch of dissertation writing, but never really made it official here.

So, it's official. Expect very little (if anything) from me until the dissertation is behind me. At the latest that will be September, but I might find time for a few posts while I'm waiting for draft feedback or as I finish up final edits.

Until then, here are some links to work by others that I have enjoyed. I've already linked much of it on the Facebook page, but not here as I don't do weekly links. Some of it is recent, some less recent but of lasting value. If you're plugged in to news and commentary about Taiwan, you've probably come across much of it before, but consider this a shout-out to some of my favorite work on Taiwan. 



Taipei's homeless are few but desperate - Cindy Chang

Can Tsai Ing-wen avoid the second-term curse? - Kharis Templeman


Recent changes in national identity - Nathan Batto

Why Taiwan continues to fear an invasion (the title isn't great but the article is good) -  Fang-Yu Chen, Austin Wang, Charles K.S. Wu and Yao-Yuan Yeh

It's time for Taiwan to confront its ethnic discrimination issues - Hilton Yip

Metalhead Politics - a new podcast by Emily Y. Wu and Freddy Lim (new episode out July 1)

Island Utopia - Catherine Chou

Knit Together  (this is an older post but one I think about frequently as I consider what it's like to live far away from my own family, and the ongoing process of working through losing my mom in late 2014) - Katherine Alexander 

Taiwan's status is a geopolitical absurdity - Chris Horton

The Island the Left Neglected - Jeffrey Ngo (now outside the paywall on Dissent Magazine)

The Status Quo is Independence - Michael Turton (not new, but makes some key points)


The WHO Ignores Taiwan. The World Pays the Price. - Wilfred Chan

Taiwan's human rights miracle does not extend to its Southeast Asian foreign workers - Nick Aspinwall (also not new, but I keep it on hand)


Oh yes, and if you're still wondering about the KMT soap opera that helped Han Kuo-yu rise and fall (I mean other than his having been bought by the PRC at some point), of all the Taiwan Report podcasts, this is the one to listen to. - Donovan Smith


This is an old piece about local radio stations in southern Taiwan being co-opted by pro-China entities, but something about the story being told here sticks in my head. It's a small, personal story that has some truly ominous portent. - Voicettank

This is very old, but I like to keep a copy on hand every time someone insists that the flurry of treaties and declaration during and after WWII settled the status of Taiwan as a 'part of China'. They did not, and Chai Bhoon Kheng explains why.

* * *

Alright, that's it from me. I have a few drafts that I may or may not publish (one needs a clearer focus and the other is quite personal, so I'm holding off on both). Hopefully, however, by the time you hear from me again in any meaningful way, I'll have successfully completed graduate school.

Catch you on the other side! 


Monday, June 15, 2020

Foreign residents in Taiwan should get stimulus vouchers, too (and the government is specifically seeking to exclude blue collar foreign workers)

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I don't have a related picture so please enjoy this old gate

(Update) Thanks to a friend's helpful link, I'm able to include video evidence that not only do the stimulus vouchers not cover foreigners who aren't married to locals, but they specifically aimed to exclude foreign blue-collar workers (that is, the majority of the foreign community from Southeast Asia). It's in Mandarin, but watch at around the 1:04:25 mark, and you'll see that the reason given for not allowing all foreign taxpayers to get the vouchers is "因為我們有很多移工" - the rough but I think accurate translation being "because we have lots of migrant workers".

That's disgusting, and the government should honestly be ashamed. 


(Original post)

A few weeks ago, the government unveiled a plan to provide stimulus vouchers to jumpstart the economy as Taiwan copes (spectacularly well) with the CCP Virus. People with low incomes will be able to receive the vouchers free of charge, and wealthier citizens could pay NT$1000 for NT$3000 worth of vouchers. I'm not clear on the details, but there are also apparently specific voucher plans in the works for things like cultural activities, as well.

Here's the thing, as with the Ma-era stimulus plan in which citizens and those married to citizens received NT$3600 to bolster the economy, foreign residents with no local spouse are not eligible for any of these programs, either.

If you're wondering whether anyone's asked the government why they craft policies like this, the answer is yes. The response will sadden but not surprise you. From the link above:



When asked the reason for this policy, she [Su Wen-ling 蘇文玲 of the Ministry of Economic Affairs] said that the vouchers are "only meant for Taiwanese citizens," with the hope that they will spend more money on the economy.

This quite literally amounts to:

Q: "Why are foreign residents, who pay taxes just like Taiwanese citizens, not eligible for all of the benefits of those taxes?"

A: "Because they're not."



It was not only a bad answer, it was a non-answer, and Ms. Su should feel bad for giving it. She may as well have stuck out her tongue and blown a raspberry with lots of extra spit for emphasis.


The whole attitude is frankly ridiculous, for two reasons. I'll give you the less important one first: we pay taxes. It's also our tax money being spent on measures to improve the economy, and our money spent in Taiwan is just as good as the money spent by citizens.

If the purpose of this program is to help the economy, then more money being spent by more people is a good thing. You get less, uh, stimulation if you give out fewer vouchers, so why isn't every taxpayer eligible?

There's simply no reason to exclude us. Including all foreign residents (so that means not just the middle-class people like me, but also the far more sizable Southeast Asian workforce) wouldn't even amount to that much money when compared to the cost of the entire program. And, as any savvy business knows, giving out coupons entices most people to spend even more than they would have without the coupon. 


It's just bad policy, crafted for no reason, and "defended" with a joke of a non-answer.

That said, it's not like I need the stimulus money. I don't, and you probably don't either (though I suppose we could all benefit from it.) It's not really about the money - it's about being treated like a normal taxpayer, and about making better economic policy. Nobody's looking for a charity handout.

However, there's a more important reason why foreigners should be included.

Let me tell you about my community. We have a lot of elderly residents, which means there are a lot of care workers in the area, most of whom are from Indonesia and the Philippines. This means that my community has a higher-than-average concentration of shops that cater specifically to this community, at least by Taipei standards. here are three Indonesian markets within a 2-minute walk of my apartment.

They sell goods and provide shipping services that other foreign residents from Southeast Asia purchase and use (I also shop at these stores, both for ingredients and prepared food, which is generally excellent). I have never seen a Taiwanese person shopping in any of them - if any do, it's not common. 


What I'm trying to say is this: they are threads woven inextricably into the community life and economy of my neighborhood. They have value - providing needed goods, services and employment - and deserve the benefits of economic stimulus plans just as much as any other businesses frequented by Taiwanese.

But because the people who shop there won't get vouchers, and the people who get vouchers don't shop there, this entire sector of the economy will almost certainly see no benefit whatsoever. They bring so much value to this country, are owned by taxpayers and employ people who pay taxes, selling goods to people who pay taxes, but won't get the benefit of those taxes when the government feels the economy is lagging.

My neighborhood may be a little unique for Taipei, but the rest of Taiwan surely has areas where businesses such as these are a notable feature of the economy and streetscape.

I have to wonder, what other sectors of the economy that the folks at the Ministry of Economic Affairs have clearly not considered are going to be overlooked by this stimulus program?


I'm sorry, but that's not right, and someone really ought to tell Ms. Su and her colleagues, and demand a real answer. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Care workers, not employers, lack protections

I had a letter to the editor published in the Taipei Times today. I'll put the whole text here as they're my words, but first, a quick link to the letter that spurred my response.

Because my point is not to attack Ms. Chang, but rather to address some of the problematic beliefs expressed in her letter, which are unfortunately all too common in Taiwan, I want to state my final point at the beginning: if a potential employer of foreign blue-collar labor - care workers, fishermen, factory workers, anyone - thinks their rights are insufficient and those workers have "too many" protections, they are welcome to hire Taiwanese employees for those jobs. That means paying them a Taiwanese wage (which isn't all that high itself), under Taiwanese labor laws. You wouldn't have to wait a few months before hiring somebody - they can go out and find someone right now! So why don't they?

If these jobs are so great, then surely many Taiwanese are excited to take them and would happily accept the positions on offer.

Oh, they're not?

Could it be, perhaps, that the workers aren't the ones getting the best end of this deal? Could it be that "too many protections" to these employers still amounts to fewer protections than any Taiwanese citizen would accept, and the goal of some of these employers is to keep the workers they hire as exploitable and exploited as possible?

All I can say is, whenever an employer of a foreign worker says "they ran away! I didn't do anything wrong and they just absconded!", while they may be right (not all employers are bad), I sure want to hear that worker's story first.

And one final point: unionization could help in this regard. Fishing workers, care workers, factory workers - both local or foreign - would do well to unionize. Frankly, English teachers should too but that's a far-off dream and we're not the ones with the most to complain about.

Here's the letter:

Ms Heidi Chang’s (張姮燕) article (“Employers need protections too,” May 24, page 6) made the case that “migrant workers’” rights had improved in Taiwan, but employers’ rights had not, going so far as to complain that all employers are treated equally under the law — as though this was not how the law was supposed to work.

The truth is that the rights of foreign blue-collar workers have still not caught up with the rights their employers have always enjoyed.

This segment of the foreign community in Taiwan is more likely than other groups to encounter abuse. Recently, a care worker from the Philippines was threatened with deportation by her employer and brokerage agency for criticizing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Recall the Indonesian care worker who was repeatedly raped by her employer, was ignored by her broker and attempted suicide.

The law in Taiwan allows employers who are convicted of abusing domestic workers — including rapists — to hire a new domestic worker, who is likely to be female and highly likely to become a new victim, after the first offense. They are only barred from hiring after multiple offenses.

Instead of asking what employers’ rights are, ask this: Why is one rape not enough to bar them from ever hiring a home care worker again?

Workers in the fishing industry are often subjected to horrific conditions, including beatings, having their documents withheld, or outright slavery. Even though such treatment is illegal, it is difficult for fishing boat workers to seek help.

This abuse is rampant and has resulted in deaths. Taiwanese employers are the focus of more complaints by Indonesian fishers than any other country.

Employers are legally able to pay foreign employees well below the minimum wage, and domestic workers are still not covered under the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法). It is relatively easy for them to force their employees to work overtime, often without days off, or to perform tasks outside their contracts. Cramped dorms, and unsafe work and living conditions are not only additional risks, they have also resulted in deaths.

The easiest way to ensure a foreign worker does not abscond is to treat them well. Most people want to work legally, keeping the scant protections they have and usually “run” because they have no better option. “Undocumented” work offers no protection at all and might pay much less.

This fantasy of workers from Southeast Asia amassing huge sums of money at the expense of hardworking Taiwanese so they might return to their home countries is just that, a fantasy.

This is not just a problem with employers, it is a systemic one. There is no easy way to switch employers. Brokerage firms often charge exorbitant fees and openly exploit workers. The entire brokerage system is akin to legalized indentured servitude or human trafficking. It must be abolished. It is a smear on Taiwan’s reputation as a bastion of liberal democratic and human rights in Asia.

Most Taiwanese employers do treat foreign employees well. For those who feel that their rights are insufficient, I kindly suggest hiring Taiwanese workers. If they do not want to, perhaps they should reconsider who really gets the better deal.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Come work for a totally not sexist and exploitative Taiwanese company!

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Our company would like to thank everyone for the strong interest in our job ad after posting it on Working in Taiwan a few days ago. We've had such an influx of candidates that our recruitment manager is exhausted - but we're happy to report he's keeping it up! We're sure that this is because our preference for female workers really hardens our credibility as a feminist employer.

Because we've had so much interest, we'd like to clarify a few points about the requirements for these positions.

Candidates should possess: 

- Hips that don't lie
- A butt that just won't quit

- LA fit with an Oakland booty
- Curves for days
- 36-24-36? Maybe if you're 5'3"


APPLICANTS WITH A BACKGROUND IN ACROBATICS/DANCE WILL BE GIVEN HIRING PREFERENCE

We must re-iterate that dorky, uncool girls with glasses will not be considered at this time. It's nothing personal, the hiring manager just isn't into the "brainy" look. And he thinks left-handed people are creepy and possibly witches. He prefers to use his right hand while vigorously performing his duties. AND YOUR HANDS HAD BETTER NOT BE SWEATY BECAUSE THAT IS GROSS, LADIES.

However, he does prefer candidates with a four-year degree and who are "good in math", which is why our salary is so high, and definitely not just a few hundred NT above Taiwan's minimum wage. It is preferable for this position that you are not aware of Taiwan's minimum wage, which is related to the next requirement.

No previous experience working abroad is also a requirement. We have had unfortunate incidents in the past where a new female's knowledge of local labor laws interfered with her ability to execute her job duties.

Despite your four-year degree, please refrain from pointing out any typos in our job ad.

BRA SIZE must be between B CUP and C CUP. This is because the machines at our factory are operated with breasts.

It is essential that you have no tattoos because only sluts have tattoos (this rule applies to females only, the tribal dragon on my best bro's arm is lit AF).

Please be advised that you will have to wear a uniform for this position. Our uniforms are carefully designed for the work environment, which involves lots of poles and a fair amount of meetings with the manager. At this time we would like to reassure you that this is a real job in a real factory.

If interested, please send nudes to the address above.

We hope to hear from you soon! Our hiring manager's needs are URGENT.

NO FATTIES

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Immigration and racism in Taiwan: it's not about who you are when you come, but who you become after you arrive

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Silhouettes of a visitor and a foreign resident in Taiwan

Perhaps an explosive title, but hear me out. I'm going to talk mostly about Taiwan in this post, but the ideas I want to express can be applied to more or less any country (there may be a few exceptions that I'm not aware of  - but by and large this is a global problem). Otherwise, let's just jump right in.

In Taiwan, it's fairly easy for professionals to immigrate and gain permanent residency, at least compared to much of the rest of the world. If you are a professional with at least two years' experience in your field or a Master's degree in any field (which has to be a face-to-face program and in some cases, excludes part-time programs) and someone will hire you, you can come to Taiwan with few problems. If you stay for five years, you can get permanent residency. That's actually not bad by global standards. It's much harder to get a visa to work in most Western countries, and permanent residency (e.g. a green card) can take ages. Of course, some are easier than others.

But it is discriminatory - if you're from a family that is middle class or wealthy, you're more likely to have access to the education you need to get hired. You're more likely to speak an international language (such as English, though for Taiwan, Mandarin is a huge help), because you had access to that same education which probably included it. You probably also come from a worldlier 'family culture' that would have encouraged knowing such a language: families where parents and relatives speak a foreign language are more likely to have offspring who also grow up to speak that language.

So, off the bat, any sort of points-based or 'professional' based visa system is automatically classist, because mostly people born into certain social classes have the access to the education and training they need to get hired and obtain a visa in a country like Taiwan (or Australia, or the US, or...etc.)

If you come from a 'developed' country, many (or most) of which are majority-white for historical reasons that are deeply unfair, you are far more likely to be born into such a family. What is the likelihood of, say, a European being born into circumstances that would allow them these advantages, compared to, say, someone from Southeast Asia outside Singapore? A lot greater. So what are your chances of meeting visa requirements calibrated to attract 'professionals' if you already come from a developed (and therefore more likely - though not necessarily - majority white) country? Comparatively speaking, how likely are you to be able to meet those same requirements if you come from a developing country that is almost certainly not white? Anecdotal evidence does not count. "I'm white but my life was tough" does not count - that's not statistical likelihood. "I'm from Vietnam but my family was rich" is also not statistical likelihood. On average, what are your chances?

Since race intersects with class - the color line is the power line is the poverty line - and you are simply more likely to be from a privileged background if you are white - such a system also gives an unfair advantage to people who are white. There are exceptions for sure, but again, we're talking averages here.

In Taiwan's case, I simply don't care if the goal is to attract certain kinds of professionals, in part because doing so is simply inherently classist (and therefore racist) - and that is exactly how Taiwan's immigration system works, both in terms of getting visas to come here, getting permanent residency, and getting citizenship. If you qualify for a professional visa, permanent residency is fairly easy, but if you come here to study - say, you are one of the Southeast Asian students that Taiwan hopes to attract - that doesn't count, and it can be difficult to transition. If you are a blue-collar worker, there's no path at all. To be a citizen, you have to be even more 'qualified', which probably means coming from an even wealthier background, or have 'Chinese ancestry' (which is a law that's obliquely about race).

You can come here and seek a better life, but probably only if your previous life was comparatively privileged, and you can stay forever, but you're probably already really privileged if qualify just isn't a good look.

I also believe that it doesn't actually achieve Taiwan's goals. The birthrate is falling, and while I don't necessarily think "we must unceasingly increase our population so the young can support the old" is a good long-term plan - Taiwan's easily habitable areas are already densely populated and there is finite space and resources - the best way to ensure population stability is to loosen immigration requirements. A lot of these immigrants will marry and have children locally, which is a huge bonus for Taiwan. Not just  professionals: everyone.

In addition, I'm not at all convinced that the visa requirements and citizenship, plum blossom and gold card requirements actually meet Taiwan's needs. Taiwanese media routinely talks about the need to train more vocational workers, there is an oversupply of local workers for white-collar jobs (which is one reason wages are low, though not the only one), and with a low birthrate, Taiwan's labor force depends on immigration. Yes, this is true even despite the brain drain due to low wages and stressful, borderline-tyrannical office culture. And yet, it's especially true for blue-collar workers, because local vocational training is not particularly good and not highly-respected.

It would simply be smarter and truly meet Taiwan's needs, then, to relax rules for blue-collar immigrants, not just white-collar ones. So why have white collar workers been specifically prioritized? (That's a rhetorical question. The answers are racism and classism.)

And, of course, that's not even getting into what white collar workers Taiwan actually needs compared to whom it is trying to attract. With an initiative to become "bilingual by 2030", you'd think they'd want more qualified teachers and teacher trainers who can train up newly-hired local and foreign teachers, and yet for the education sector, only "associate professors", not regular teachers, qualify for dual nationality. That makes no sense at all.

And finally, it's simply the right thing to do. A place - whether that's a country, region or city - prospers when it is open to everyone seeking a better life, and the drawbacks are few. Yes, an influx of labor may cause short-term drops in wages, but those tend to recover. Yes, increased multiculturalism can cause friction, but it doesn't have to be that way, and the advantages of being exposed to people whose backgrounds and worldviews are unlike your own outweigh the drawbacks. Plus, it's a super great way to not be racist! They bring talent and creativity as well as hard work. They open businesses, get married, start families. They fill needs and niches in society. They matter, even if they don't come with a pre-fab education or specific work experience.

In other words, it's not about who you are when you come. Or it shouldn't be. It's who you become after you arrive. 


I want to insert a little story about how I came here and taught English with very few qualifications (some teaching experience in a variety of settings, from children to adults, from monolingual to multilingual, in the US and outside of it, both English and native-speaker literacy, but no formal training.) I want to talk about how the only way I got to where I am now - the person who trains people like my former self - is because of the opportunities I could only access after I got to Taiwan. I want to talk about how I could never have afforded my subsequent training and education with the low purchasing power my American existence felt like it was dooming me to. But I won't (I mean, other than the fact that I just did). I grew up with English as my first language, and standard American English at that. I'm white. I was privileged enough to be born into a family that, with some difficulty, sent me to university. I'm already privileged, so my story isn't the point.

Otherwise, if you say you support immigration to Taiwan but you only mean immigration for the already-privileged, you don't really support immigration. You support classist, and therefore racist, immigration policy. You support people who look and sound like me, but not anyone really different from you. I mean that for Taiwanese as well: yes, we are different, from different backgrounds. Yes, this might lead to some differences in worldview. But, educated Taiwanese readers who can read this in English, you and I have more in common because of our class background than either of us have in common with someone from a truly marginalized community. Especially if you are Han Taiwanese - Han privilege is absolutely a thing, and you know it.

If those other people like us are Asian - say, Hong Kongers, Singaporeans or Japanese - then they are just that much more similar to you, coming from the same region, though not the same culture and society.

Do you really want to support only people who don't seem so different - people like me - or do you really want to support Taiwan being an international society where everyone can seek a better life?

Taiwan is already a multicultural society - though the rate fluctuates, the number of Taiwanese children with a foreign parent has always been higher than a lot of people realize. After all, most of the time, those foreign parents are Asian, so it's hard to tell. For the past few centuries, this country has had foreign travelers, residents, colonizers and spouses interwoven into its cultural and historical fabric. Although there's a 'majority' culture, it's only a monoculture if you want to believe it is (and if you think 'monoculture' includes other foreigners if those foreigners happen to be Asian).

I see no reason why that can't be reflected in a better, more egalitarian, more welcoming and less racist immigration policy. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Bad reporting, Han Kuo-yu, and racism against Filipinos in Taiwanese society

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This meme - not established Taiwanese media -  is the most accurate translation of Han's actual remarks that I've found. 

So, I'm sure you've all heard by now that Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu is a racist crapsack, but you might not be entirely clear on exactly how much of a racist crapsack he actually is, because it's impossible to figure out what his exact words were from print media. 

In looking for Han's direct quote, I found three different versions in United Daily News, Liberty Times and Storm Media, and decided none of them could be fully trusted. So, I found a video. Here's exactly what he said, with video evidence:


我想高雄市民跟台灣人民的心理狀態一定很大衝擊,怎麼瑪麗亞一下變成我們老師了?

My translation:


I think the hearts of Kaohsiung residents and Taiwanese would be greatly shocked, how can a Maria become our teacher?

'Maria' is a pejorative for a Filipina woman, connoting a woman of humble means who performs domestic labor. It's equivalent to calling them maids - referring to every woman in the Philippines as 'the help'. This particular insult is well-known in Taiwan, where many workers from the Philippines perform blue-collar labor in Taiwan. It's not just a racist word, it's a sexist one too as it specifically denigrates the domestic labor done by foreign women.

That word, "shock" (衝擊) can also mean an assault or lashing - it could just as easily be translated as "would assault the hearts of Kaohsiungers and Taiwanese".

The "...because how can a 'Maria' become our English teacher" is also important to understanding Han's meaning, it implies unlikeliness, impossibility, or mockery. How could The Help possibly teach us?

This is what he means and an accurate translation of his remark makes that clear.

Han goes on to say (from the video linked above, translation mine):


往菲律賓取才我覺得這個在一個克服的過程。... 如果我們從菲律賓引進教英文的師資,高雄的家長能不能接受? 所以我才會用瑪麗亞三個字,來做一個表述,所以我用瑪麗亞三個字不是有其他的意思在。...你為什麼不找美國,澳大利亞,英國的,你為什麼找隔壁菲律賓的?我的意思是說,家長心裡會有一個障礙。可是呢?菲律賓外語人才的輸出,已經很成熟,這個兩個這間,怎麼樣說服高雄的家長? 
Filipino talent, I think this is a process of overcoming....if we introduce qualified English teachers from the Philippines, would Kaohsiung patriarchs/heads of household/old-timers be able to accept it [with the implication that they would not]. So, I can only say 'Maria' it's just an expression, so when I say 'Maria', there's no other meaning....Why don't you find American, Australian, English ones, why do you find people from the nearby Philippines? My meaning is, that's a mental obstacle for these 'patriarchs'/old timers. But? The Philippines sending out foreign language speakers is already very common. Between these two [extremes], how can we convince those old-timers?

This sounds like a reasonable position to take, because it's surely true that there are many racist people in Kaohsiung and Taiwan who would be bothered by or opposed to having teachers from the Philippines in positions of authority and respect in Taiwan, because to them, they are just "Marias".

That doesn't absolve Han of his initial comments, though. First, to say "I didn't mean anything other than that by the word 'Maria'" is about as tired an excuse as "I only used the N-word because I heard it in a rap song, not because I meant something racist."

And it doesn't hold up to even the barest scrutiny as an explanation: he's not quoting anyone in particular when he calls Filipinas 'Marias'. The word came out of his own mouth. He used it offhandedly, like a normal word anyone would use. He didn't adequately signpost his remarks as a quote or description of an attitude, because that's not actually what they were despite his "clarifications" later.

If Han had really meant to describe what Taiwanese think, and make it clear that he disagrees, he wouldn't have said 'Maria' so casually in the first place. This marks him not as an ally, but a concern troll: defending his words as describing what the other side thinks, but showing through his unconsidered language choices that, on some level, he is a part of that 'other side'. Someone who truly wants to change racism against Southeast Asians in Taiwanese society would simply not say "...how can a Maria become our teacher?"

It boils down to his meaning being, "I don't hate Marias, I'm just worried about racism in Taiwan, what with everyone used to them being so poor and being maids and all, it's sad to me that nobody wants those Marias to be their English teachers. I'm just concerned!" 


He didn't say "many Taiwanese unfortunately have an obstacle in their thinking to accepting the idea that teachers from the Philippines could teach them, and that is wrong. We need to persuade them and overcome this obstacle, because there are many qualified professionals, including teachers, from the Philippines." He didn't even say "many Taiwanese think of workers from the Philippines as 'Marias' and that is a problem", which, while a bit gasp-worthy, is at least kind of an accurate description of what some Taiwanese people think.

He said, and I repeat, "how can a Maria become an English teacher?" as casually as an American racist might say "How'd a ________ like her get a nice car like that?" 

(And see how I made it quite clear that such horrid language describes views that exist in the world, but does not reflect my own views? It's not hard.)

At the very least it didn't occur to him that unthinkingly tossing off the 'Maria' epithet might be a problem. That only happens when someone already thinks of a group of people that way, not when they are signaling disagreement or condemnation of an opinion others hold.

And if a leader is caught in such a gaffe and tries to insist that they don't personally feel that way about a particular group, but they're just worried that everyone else does, that's simply unacceptable. Leaders should not inflame societal prejudices, even if they are common; they should be examples of a higher, more forward-thinking standard. 


Let's keep in mind as well that he tows the same 'concern troll' line with marriage equality, saying his real concern is "the next generation" (won't someone think of the children?), not that he is anti-gay, while fraternizing with anti-gay groups


And he didn't even bother to defend his remark until later in the meeting when directly asked about it, or show awareness that 'Maria' is more than 'just an expression'.

If you look at reporting of Han's comments, you get distortions of what he said all over the place (all translations are mine). Some make his wording look a lot worse - from UDN:


引進菲律賓人才,這恐怕對高雄人、台灣人心理衝擊大,因為瑪麗亞怎麼變老師了?
Introducing Filipino talent, I'm afraid (as in, scared - not regretful) that this will be a shock to Taiwanese and Kaohsiung residents, because how can a Maria become a teacher? 

From Liberty Times:


這恐怕對台灣人心理衝擊大,因為瑪麗亞怎麼變老師了?
I'm afraid that this would be a shock to the Taiwanese, because how can a Maria become a teacher?

And from Storm Media, inexplicably making him look better:


韓國瑜認為,確實能夠借重,但必須先克服市民及台灣人民的心理障礙,讓「瑪莉亞變老師」,很多人內心會有衝擊。 
...「我覺得我想高雄市民跟台灣人民,心理一定有很大衝擊,瑪莉亞變成我們老師了,這要克服的過程,這可能心理衝擊很大。」 
Han Kuo-yu believes it is indeed possible to take advantage of /get benefits from [talent from the Philippines], but the psychological barriers of the people of Taiwan must first be overcome - to let "'Marias' become teachers", a lot of people will be shocked.  
"I think / I think that Kaohsiung residents and Taiwanese will be very shocked, Marias become our English teachers, we need to overcome this, this can be a huge shock." 

Storm tried to soften the impact of his words by mashing two quotes together - "Marias become our English teachers" and "we need to overcome this", making it seem as though he said these two things at the same time, when he didn't (which the video makes clear by his different positioning). It also erases the "because how can a Maria become our teacher?" by selectively cutting his quote and replacing "because how can..." (怎麼) with "let" (讓) outside the quote marks. 

In English the reporting isn't much higher quality.

From Focus Taiwan, which offers the most accurate translation:


Responding to a proposal that Taiwan could hire bilingual Filipino white-collar workers at a conference on Wednesday, the mayor said employing "Marias" as teachers would be a psychological shock for Taiwanese.

There's also this from Taiwan News, which is far worse but just translates the garbage from Storm Media above but does so in a way that make Han's comments sound erudite in English, when they weren't particularly eloquent in Mandarin:


In response to this, the Kaohsiung Mayor admitted the Philippines’ abundance of skilled labor could benefit the city, but said its residents would first need to overcome some “internal conflicts.”
“I believe witnessing ‘Marias’ become teachers would cause a clash in the hearts of the people of Kaohsiung, and Taiwan’s population at large. This is something that needs to be overcome; likely a huge internal conflict,” Storm quotes Han.

And the Taipei Times, with what I think is the most inaccurate translation:


Han on Wednesday told a meeting of the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce in Taipei that he feared that hiring educated employees from the Philippines as English teachers “would cause a psychological shock for Taiwanese, as people might wonder: How has our Maria become a teacher?” 


Focus Taiwan accurately placed the 'Maria' comment within the attitude of Han, which is the context in which he made it, and not as a description of what he thinks other Taiwanese think. The other two make him sound much better than he actually did, and situate the 'Maria' quip not as Han's own word (which it is) but as a description of something he disagrees with (which is not what he said until pushed - which outs him as a concern troll.) Some translations (like Taipei Times' work) add connotations to the translation - e.g. "wondering" - that are simply not there in his actual words. 

All of these seem so odd to me, because the video of his remarks is publicly available. I'm not even a native Mandarin speaker or a perfectly fluent one, and yet I found and translated it with little problem.

So why do some quotes - like Liberty Times and UDN - make Han's remark seem more shocking than it was (and to be clear, it was quite shocking on its own and did not need to be sexed up)? And why do others - like Storm Media - make it sound like not much at all? How is this unclear and inaccurate media reporting of Han's remarks affecting how Taiwanese think about the incident, and is it distorting public discourse?

In English at least, it is having a distorting effect. Several posts on social media have pointed out that Han's remarks should not be considered offensive, because that's what some Taiwanese really think, based on the Taipei Times and Taiwan News translations.

This makes me wonder how can we even have a real conversation about Han's remarks and racism in Taiwanese society if what we read isn't quoting him correctly.

I'm not sure why Storm Media - which I've found to be typically more reliable - made Han look better than he deserved, and why a pan-green and pan-blue rag each made him look worse. But because the inaccuracies are present across the entire media-political spectrum, it doesn't point to an attempt to polarize the Taiwanese political cleavage.

Rather, I think it's just plain old bad reporting.

I'll finish off with something bad, then something good.

Something bad:


Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) on Saturday apologized for a recent remark in which he referred to Filipinos as "Marias," saying the term, considered by many to be a racial slur, was a slip of the tongue.
Han was sorry for the misunderstanding caused by his misuse of the term and said he looks forward to future cooperation with the Philippines, it added. 

No, Focus Taiwan. NO NO NO NO NO.

"Maria" is not "considered by many" to be a racial slur. Jesus F. Christ. It is a racial slur. Period. Han Kuo-yu said it, and only tried to insist it was a description of what other people think after he was called to task for it, without ever explaining why he'd throw it out so casually (because there is no explanation that absolves him).

It was not a "misunderstanding". We all understood him perfectly. People in the Philippines understood him quite accurately. And he didn't misuse the term - he used it exactly as it's meant to be used in racist speech.

Just as when my (dearly departed) grandpa referred to "those people" and then insisted, when I pressed him, that he hadn't meant it as an insult but "they're just a different community", I knew perfectly well that that's not what he'd meant. 


But then there's the good thing: when I moved to Taiwan 12 years ago, I don't know that a comment like this would have caused this kind of uproar in Taiwan. I passed more than one "Foreign Labor Go Home" protest, with old men carrying signs. I don't even know if such language was common then, because my Mandarin was crap, and I never heard of anyone raising a fuss about it.

But in 2019, despite some attempts to justify Han's language, the overwhelming response of Taiwanese public discourse is that it is not acceptable to talk this way, and racist speech and actions should not be tolerated.

If Han is correct about how many Taiwanese might think of English teachers from the Philippines - and he is, for some people - the fact that the backlash has been so swift and damning proves that not all Taiwanese think this way.

That said, it doesn't seem to be hurting his approval ratings, although I have long suspected something is really weird about whatever force underlies those ratings which is propping up Han. 


Taiwan has a long way to go - we need to treat immigrants from Southeast Asia better, end discrimination and give them the same opportunities for permanent residency and citizenship that white collar workers (who are largely Western) have - but this is real progress. 

Friday, December 28, 2018

Taiwan needs to figure out how to treat foreigners better

It pains me to say it, but Taiwan has some deep discrepancies between the human rights ideals it claims to espouse, and how it treats not only its own citizens, but also those who come to Taiwan to study or work.

Instances of Taiwanese universities using the New Southbound Policy as basically a vector for scamming Southeast Asian students are starting to feel not like horrifying exceptions, but the norm. It's happened now with not just Sri Lankan students (news of which broke just months ago) but Indonesian ones as well, at more than a handful of universities.

These universities take government subsidies meant to help them attract students from Southeast Asia, and then use them to pay brokers to bring students over. These students are then assigned jobs in factories, and attend class only a few days a week, if at all. These factory jobs are called "internships", but they aren't learning opportunities - they are basic blue-collar work - and they aren't even allowed for first-year students, and certainly shouldn't be taking up most of one's week, as work is limited to 20 hours/week for foreign students here.

These are scams aimed at getting free labor - or even labor that has paid to be there, as some of these students are paying tuition to do this. They are violations of human rights.

Taiwanese people would not accept this happening to their own citizens, so it disgusts me that it seems to happen so easily to foreigners.

The "university" system here isn't the only vector for abuse - how domestic workers (who are predominantly female) and fishing boat workers (predominantly male) are treated, not to mention regular factory workers, is obscene. 

Taiwan is trying to take a big step forward by reducing its economic dependence on China through re-invigorating ties with Southeast Asia through the New Southbound Policy. But the high-minded ideas of the central government just aren't trickling down to those meant to actually implement it through outreach (including businesses, employers and universities).

Attempting to take advantage of a government policy aimed at improving the country to line one's own pockets is not unique to foreign residents or the New Southbound Policy (certainly this happens in the domestic sphere as well - just ask how property developers circumvent the "green space" law by giving politicians reduced-price apartments they can flip and profit from, or how some local politicians take advantage of local charities). However, I can't help but think in this case, there's an element of racism at play.

If this were happening to Taiwanese, the outcry would be swift and condemning. Instead, the government "will conduct an investigation" (hardly decisive action they need to be taking). This after it's obvious that those in government who set up the programs with universities - if they can even be called that - knew how likely it was that they would try to take advantage of both the government and the foreign students. If they weren't aware of this possibility, they wouldn't have talked to the university presidents in person and warned them off doing exactly this. 


Initiatives like the New Southbound Policy aren't going to work if the people in charge of actually implementing various initiatives are using them merely to take advantage of Southeast Asian people. They're not stupid, guys. They know that there's a lot of racism against Southeast Asians here. They know that these scams exist. They know that they can't necessarily trust these programs. And neither the people nor the governments there are going to stand for it. They are already angry.

I'll say it again: if Taiwan continues to be known for treating Southeast Asians badly, and is seen as using the New Southbound Policy for their own enrichment with little concern for the effect on Southeast Asian people or economies, it's not going to work. The New Southbound Policy will fail, and we'll be stuck with a choice between China strangling our democracy or our economy - exactly the thing we seek to avoid. 


One of the things that has really impressed me about Taiwan is how this country consistently pushes itself to live up to its purported ideals: democracy, freedom, human rights. It's not that other countries don't do that, but Taiwan seems (to me anyway) to make more progress more quickly than other parts of Asia, and the struggle just seems more visible here (and more accessible in terms of being connected or understanding, on a personal level, the bleeding edge of the push for social change.)

But we have to admit that Taiwan, as much as it may be a place one can love deeply and make a commitment to, is far from perfect. That's true not just in terms of how it treats its own citizens, but how it treats foreigners here. It has ideals, but as things stand right now, it simply doesn't live up to them. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

And everyone who knows us knows...we didn't come for money

I promised I'd eventually pick up where I left off here, so...

Last month I came across this job posting with MoFA (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) through the Facebook group of Nihao's It Going (and for those wondering why there is no Lao Ren Cha Facebook group, the answer is that I am old and lazy.)



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No link because the ad is no longer online. That probably means someone took the job, or they'd have extended the posting dates. It's too much to hope for that MoFA realized how embarrassing that salary offer was and immediately, contritely took the ad down until they could come up with a better offer.

My mouth was agape at the requirement of a Master's obtained outside Taiwan (the hell?), so let's briefly take a look at that. What the hell is going on that the Taiwanese government is announcing openly that Master's degrees obtained in Taiwan are substandard? (I suspect for some subjects, at some universities, they are - but even so, for the government to be openly acknowledging this is horrifying).

Then, look at the salary: NT$66,000/month. And look at what they want for that.


That's...about US$2200/month - enough to live comfortably in Taiwan if you are single or a dual-income couple, but not enough to raise a family. Enough to get by and save a little for some nice vacations, but not enough to save meaningfully for any long-term goals. In 2006, if Kojen (a large buxiban chain) put you - probably a teacher lacking most of this list of qualifications - on a salaried rather than hourly rate, it was NT$60k - not a lot less than this offer, and 12 years ago at that.

Even sadder is that they seem to have enough applications to justify taking the post down from people willing to accept that pay. 

In short, it's a joke. So between bouts of laughter, I've been thinking a lot about why I stay - why any foreign talent stays, when the pay is just this damn bad. More importantly, I've been thinking about that means in terms of the greater conversation about brain drain and attracting (and retaining) foreign talent in Taiwan. Or, for that matter, local talent.

Why some people stay anyway is an easy question to answer: for me, it's a combination. My social life is very much here now. I love my friends back in the US, but there is no denying we've grown apart somewhat (this is less of a problem with friends in the UK). Not only do I find it hard to explain what my life is actually like in Taiwan to friends who have never visited.

Beyond that, I simply care about the country. Assuming I wouldn't move back to the US (and I wouldn't, unless I felt I had to), and assuming learning a new language isn't a problem (and it probably wouldn't be - I'm good at that), I find it hard to imagine coming to care about another place as much as I do Taiwan. Korea, Japan and Hong Kong are interesting - as are many places farther afield and outside Asia - but am I really going to start passionately fighting for the concept of Korean identity, or Japanese democracy or discussing Argentinian history in the detail I do about Taiwan? Am I going to start collecting and reading books about Jordan? Probably not.

Leaving aside the mostly-hideous architecture and other endemic, intractable problems here, there's something special about the place. A spark that caught my eye. A streak of rebelliousness that chimes a matching tone to something within me. A real fight, for freedom against oppression, for democracy against dictatorship, for right (if flawed) against absolutely wrong.

I've also come to learn about myself that even if I cannot vote, I must live in a free society, and one where women's issues have at least reached the level of discourse they have in Taiwan. That cuts out more than half the world, including much of the rest of Asia. China is a no-go, so is Vietnam. Hong Kong isn't quite free. Japan and South Korea have bigger issues with sexism than Taiwan.

And it's convenient - I think there's a law somewhere requiring that I say that. Sure. And I really do prefer living in the developed world, and in a place with a first-rate public transit network.

Oh yeah and all my stuff's here and my cats and all that. Sure.

Point is, if all I cared about was money, there are a lot of places I could go, and make lots more of it. Obviously, other priorities keep me here. 


Other people have other reasons - perhaps their job is more tied to Taiwan, whereas I could find better work if I were willing to leave. Perhaps they've married locally, or are a specialist in local politics or history (things I am personally interested in, but am not a credentialed expert in), or have invested their whole lives in learning Mandarin or Taiwanese.

There are a million reasons why we accept low pay and generally poor working conditions, from the grounded (say, married locally) or conceptual (caring about Taiwan as a cause worth fighting for).

I'm not trying to defend the offering of NT$66,000/month to someone who would earn three times that, or more, elsewhere. I'm not saying that Taiwan is attractive to foreign talent despite being a place where, in many cases, your career can only go so far. In my own life, I'm grateful for the career boost Taiwan has given me, but I also see the end of the road: the point where I could go further in life (and make a lot more money, and eventually earn citizenship) if I were willing to leave. That hasn't changed.

And if Taiwan really wants to attract foreign expertise, they are simply going to have to offer a better, and better-remunerated, work culture. Period. So who cares why we stay?

Mainly, it matters because it breaks down this myth that talent always, in every instance, follows money. It's one thing to say that Taiwan needs to be more attractive to foreign talent. It's quite another to imply the flip-side of that, as some do: that everyone who is talented therefore leaves, or goes elsewhere to begin with, and those who come and stay must therefore not be desirable talent.

Whether we're talking about locals or foreigners, this is simply not fair. If some of us have other reasons why we stay, it follows that at least some of those who remain will have the talent and expertise Taiwan needs, and we deserve better than to be dismissed as losers for sticking around. I know people among my friends and connections here who are: long-termers a deeply committed teacher of children; a generous friend who gives up heaps of personal time to volunteer in underprivileged communities; several formidable scholars and journalists who, in the face of a low-quality media environment, ensure that information about Taiwan is available in a variety of languages; talented teachers of adults who have the training and experience to remake what it means to learn; public figures who bring like-minded expats together; a migrant rights activist; several writers and artists; several LGBT rights activists and more. So many more. Forget me, I'm just a weirdo with opinions - look at the whole picture. 

And yes, there are losers too, and leeches, but we're not all LBHs (Losers Back Home) who can't leave because nowhere else will put up with our bullshit, just because we haven't chased the dollar signs to some other country. We all have our reasons for staying.

Again, so what?

Well, not all of these examples of the creativity, experience and expertise that we bring to Taiwan fit into the little pegs set out by the government. We have a lot to offer, but because we're not necessarily the kind of 'foreign experts' who do chase dollar signs, we don't always meet the qualifications to be considered a 'foreign expert'.

Becoming a 'foreign expert' costs money, especially if you have already built a life in Taiwan, and suddenly find you need to relocate abroad to gain the qualifications you need (hence my problem with the "Master's degree from a university not located in Taiwan" in that ad, although I am obtaining exactly that. Not sure how I'll afford the PhD though, with an entire life that I can't just give up in Taiwan.) Those of us who have other reasons for staying and don't just chase money...tend not to have huge amounts of it.

The way the discussion about immigration and dual nationality rights is going now, it seems most of the Taiwanese government thinks we're all worthless slobs when what they want to attract is "real" expertise, not the slothful degenerates they imagine us to be, showing up to 550/hour classes at Happy Eagle English Scholar's Acadamy still drunk on Taiwan Beer. 

It dismisses those of us who came to Taiwan as nothing and built something, even if we didn't quite build it to the exact specifications set out for 'special' foreign professionals. It completely ignores the ways in which we've looked to give back, and the ways we - the ones who stay despite the crap work culture and crappier pay - are the real soft power.

I know it's a bit odd to say "we're not here for the money" alongside "...but really, we need more money". It's true, though. We stay for other reasons, but things absolutely have to get better, or we may start losing the good people who stayed on regardless.  Those of us who have good but not 'special professional' situations won't move into these more prestigious jobs if the pay is so paltry. 


We deserve better pay and work conditions, just as locals do (and I acknowledge locals need it more). But those who have made something of ourselves here also deserve to be recognized as the people who stayed even when we could have gone elsewhere and earned a lot more, and what that means in terms of the value we add to Taiwan.

Monday, August 20, 2018

We are the soft power (Part 1)

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Awhile back, I attended one of the Urban Nomad Film Festival screenings of Metal Politics Taiwan (read my review of it here) - a documentary chronicling the first year in office of black metal frontman, super hunk and then-newly-elected legislator Freddy Lim. At the end of the screening, Lim graciously participated in a Q&A session, where I had the honor of asking the last question.

I didn't blog about this until now, because the recording wasn't available. Now it is - you can watch it here (Freddy's reply is in Chinese).

I...um, haven't watched it. Why? I absolutely hate the way I look and sound on video (though I tend not to mind photos of myself) and just don't really want to watch myself. Anyway, I know what was said, I know how Freddy replied, and I don't need to watch it again.

If you don't want to watch the video (and please feel free to skip footage of me, jeez), basically I asked a two-part question: first, I asked for his opinion on the notion that Taiwan's soft power initiatives have actually failed (considering that soft power had been discussed at length in the previous questions, in a more optimistic way). There are non-Palestinians who care about Palestine, and non-Tibetans who care about Tibet, but there are very few non-Taiwanese who care about Taiwan. We haven't been reaching the audiences we need to reach to bring the case for Taiwan to the international community.

Then, I asked about immigration (the question he answered first), noting that one of the key drivers of Taiwan's soft power are the foreigners who have made Taiwan their home, and most of them are not the "special professionals" who now qualify for dual nationality. They're the ones like me, who come as nobodies, maybe teach English for awhile, but the best of whom eventually find their groove and find ways to contribute to Taiwan as well as discuss Taiwan (and its message - that it is a vibrant democracy on the front line of the fight between freedom and authoritarianism) with loved ones in our places of origin. Yet we don't qualify to be dual nationals - we aren't special enough. That there are people who worked on Metal Politics Taiwan who are some of the key drivers of Taiwan's soft power abroad, who want to be Taiwanese citizens, who don't qualify. It's not the foreign engineers and the missionaries who are spreading Taiwan's message, it's the people like us, yet we're just...not special enough. So...what's up with that?

What I really wanted to add (in italics because I didn't say it) was that only supporting people who come to Taiwan fully formed in their careers and life paths to become dual nationals is not a good economic or soft power strategy for Taiwan. Salaries, opportunities and working conditions/culture in Taiwan are not appealing enough to attract enough of such people to have an impact on the country.

What's more, when they do come, they're more likely to have been sent here by employers (rather than actively choosing Taiwan). This means they're both more likely to leave within a few years, and live in an expat bubble rather than seek to get to know and contribute to Taiwan. They probably aren't going to spend their time spreading Taiwan's soft power message. We are - the real drivers here are those who may be searching for what they ultimately want to do, and choose to spend part of that search in Taiwan. The best among us come to love Taiwan, we learn about it, we seek to understand and contribute - and we do. We decide to go to back to school, to enter a profession, to open a business, to be activists. We grow and mature. Often, we stay - some permanently.

When we visit our countries of origin, we tell our stories. We're the ones who convince friends and family abroad that Taiwan matters. We became who we are in Taiwan, and we remember that and pay it back.

We - moreso than the "special professionals" - are the real soft power. So when the government supports them, but not us, they are ignoring the true contributors to Taiwan. The government seems to have identified which kinds of immigrants it wants - I say the government is wrong.


Freddy started out by answering my second question, saying that he was aware that there are a lot of foreigners in Taiwan who want more rights, but he had to be honest that this had been discussed in the Legislative Yuan, yet the debate had been quite conservative - that it's not that people hate the foreigners who are here, or hate Southeast Asians but think white people are OK - but that it's really hard to push Taiwan to change into this sort of society (where we might assimilate more) due to continued government conservatism. The government might still think some of us are drug traffickers, liars, criminals - whether we're white or Southeast Asian. He admitted that was a strange way of thinking, but that's what a lot of people still think. Yet, there's a chance things could change quickly. Five years ago, nobody expected LGBTQ rights would be the major social issue in Taiwan that it is now, and he has great hope for the young generation who don't think as conservatively as those in power now.

I had a little more trouble understanding his answer to the first query, and I'm not sure he fully remembered what I'd asked - he answered it as though I had talked about how other democratic countries would care about Taiwan because they support us as a fellow democracy, and that things didn't quite work that way. I didn't reference international students, doing business etc., so the answer also felt a bit canned. As I don't feel he really addressed the question about soft power that I did ask, I may try to parse his answer in a subsequent post, but I'll leave this here for now.

This ties into something I've been thinking for awhile - that while it is important to raise salaries and improve job opportunities for both locals and foreigners in Taiwan (though I'd say the local situation is quite a bit more severe and needs far more immediate action), that most of us foreigners who do stick around and try to contribute - those who come here young and dumb and perhaps study Mandarin or teach English in some third-rate buxiban for a time before finding our way to something better - aren't just here for money. If that's all we cared about, we'd be in some other country (more or less any other developed country).

But that's for the next post...

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

If you're a foreign working woman in Taiwan planning to have kids, you're probably going to get screwed

I'll be expanding this more in the coming weeks, but I feel like I need to say something now, however short and underdeveloped.

If you are a foreign woman working in Taiwan, and you are intending to have children here, there is a very high possibility that you're not only going to get screwed by your employer, but that it's already happening.

A huge percentage of foreign workers here - even the "foreign professionals" - work jobs that pay an hourly rate. The vast majority of these jobs are cram school/buxiban jobs (some of which pay a salary, but many/most don't.) (Most of these jobs are not remotely professional, even though they ought to be, and are poorly paid by real professional standards, but that's a different discussion.)

We're already getting screwed out of benefits we're meant to have, such as paid typhoon days and national holidays. Employers - private language schools, mostly - just don't provide them, and good luck leaving and finding another job that does.

Well, here's another benefit workers - even foreign workers on hourly pay - are meant to have: paid maternity leave. Your employer is meant to calculate your estimated hourly pay during your absence and, well, pay you that.

But how much you get paid for maternity leave depends partly on how long you've been employed there, and partly on labor insurance, or 勞保. To get the paid maternity leave benefit, you must be signed up for labor insurance.

And most private language schools that employ foreign teachers never do this.

I have heard varying accounts of whether labor insurance is required by law for foreign employees. Notably, however, it is absolutely not true that an employer can choose not to offer it. An employer telling you "we don't offer labor insurance", and then insisting they don't have to, even if you want it, is lying to you. They typically try to evade the issue by simply not telling you it's an option, hoping you'll never find out that if you ask for it, by law they have to register you.

If you do ask...well, results vary. I typically say good things about my various employers, save one really bad experience I had. They've been, for the most part, a cut above the typical clown academy here in Taiwan. But I'm going to go ahead and say a few critical words now:

At one school where I taught exam prep classes (I've since left for unrelated reasons), I was first ignored when I asked about labor insurance, then told they "don't offer it". I replied that they had no choice, they ignored me again. I said that if I was not signed up for it, I would report this issue to the government. I didn't particularly want to report anything to anyone, but I kept getting stonewalled when trying to access my rights. Then they acted as though this made me the "problem" or "high-maintenance" employee (it didn't - I just wanted what I was legally entitled to and kinder, more private entreaties were ignored.) I got my labor insurance. Others are not so lucky - I can handle being unfairly thought of as "difficult", because at least I won, but not everyone wins.

The problem is, most foreigners either don't know they are entitled to this, think it's something the company can "offer" rather than something that cannot be denied them, or don't realize that it matters. So most working foreign women here have a safety net they don't necessarily even realize they ought to have.

So if you're a foreign woman here, and you decide to pop out a screamer, whether or not you get paid maternity leave - which you are entitled to by law even if you are on an hourly wage - depends entirely on whether or not you signed up for labor insurance. If you didn't sign up, no paid vagina-healin', baby-wranglin' time for you. If you let the issue slide when your employer refused to sign you up, same deal. You just got screwed.

What's worse is that even if you are signed up for labor insurance, a huge number of schools underreport income (my former exam prep institute employer sure did). You might think this isn't a big deal, that "that's how it is here", but your labor insurance is based on your reported income, so if you get pregnant and take maternity leave, the pay you are entitled to matches the craptastic income that's been reported for you, not what you actually earned.

I have also heard stories of schools being reluctant to grant maternity leave even if their employees have labor insurance, although that hurdle can often be gotten over if you are willing to call (or threaten to call) some relevant authorities. They might try to screw you in other ways, though (e.g. extending your probation for vague reasons that don't quite make sense to justify paying you less).

Of course, Taiwanese women face massive issues accessing maternity leave too, something that seems to be rarely written about. Most of what I see in English consists of lavish praise of Taiwan's maternity leave policies - and at least compared to the USA (which is a legitimate horror show in this regard) - which rarely includes the uncomfortable truth that, while employers can't exactly deny their employees this leave, they can and do pressure them to take as little of it as possible and find other passive-aggressive ways to punish female employees who don't comply. Plenty of Taiwanese women don't feel they can access their full legally-entitled maternity leave either.

There is a difference, though: Taiwanese women know this is a problem. They are at least aware of what they are supposed to be getting. There is a foundation there for fighting back.

Foreign women in Taiwan? They may not even realize they're getting screwed. But chances are, they are.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

No, immigrants are not the key to the labor shortage

Anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with Lao Ren Cha or me personally knows that I am staunchly pro-immigration. It's one of the very few beliefs I actually share with libertarians. I do believe relaxing immigration requirements - not only in terms of naturalization but in terms of the laws that regulate us once we arrive - will be to Taiwan's benefit, not just my own. We contribute to the economy and deserve commensurate rights under a fair-minded policy, and those of us who wish to remain permanently deserve better tools to be able to do so, because we are generally good for Taiwan.

However, I have to say, I'm a bit sick of people referring to a sickly cousin of this argument as a defense of immigration reform: that it will "help reverse brain drain" or that it is "the key to the labor shortage" - that, in order to stem the dual problems of Taiwanese talent moving abroad and a cratering birth rate, we need more immigrants. Despite immigration, in my view, generally being a good thing.

In his recent statements, Premier William Lai was not entirely wrong - we cannot discuss how Taiwan will keep pace in a (so sorry for the lame cliche) "globalized world" (barf) without discussing immigration (link above):

“It is impossible to talk about talent recruitment without touching upon immigration policy,” Lai said, adding that the Cabinet would discuss how to create a friendly immigration environment before revealing its new policy.


However, he is doing more harm than good in referring to us as the key to bolstering the labor shortage:

Lai made the remarks in the last of five news conferences held this week to address the nation’s “five industrial shortages” — land, water, electricity, talent and workers.

No.

First of all, Mr. Lai, do you know what kind of damage you are doing when you revise the new labor regulations in a way that hurts workers on one day, and quite literally on the very next day you talk about attracting immigrants? What kind of message do you think you're sending?

Since perhaps you are not aware, Dear Willy, I will tell you:

You are sending the message that you don't care about Taiwanese labor - that you do not care about the average voters, that you do not care about your own people - because you intend to replace them with immigrants anyway. This does not help. This only lends credence to the notion that the government not only isn't concerned about plummeting wages as a result of ostensibly "cheaper" immigrant labor, but that they are depending on it. It only renders true the recent criticism that the current DPP-led government not only doesn't care about Taiwanese workers and doesn't think they are strictly necessary, but that they likely never did.

You are essentially saying that it is acceptable to crap all over Taiwanese labor rights, because it doesn't matter - you can always get some foreigners in here to do the work.

That not only hurts you, Willz, it also hurts us. It makes us look like the bad guys, which we never wanted to be. We just wanted to build lives here while also being a positive force that contributed to Taiwan. We never wanted to be fingered as replacements for Taiwanese labor, nor the reason why it was deemed acceptable to further worsen an already problematic set of new labor laws.

Stop it, WillWill. Just stop. No.

In fact, as wrong as New Bloom was regarding immigration regulations in other countries, they are right about the disastrous effect the DPP's  changes are going to have not only on Taiwanese labor and the brain drain, but to their own popularity. They are going to pay for this, and you know what? They should.

The solution to Taiwan's labor shortage is simple. Four words.

Treat your workers right. 

In fact, I have a problem with the whole "brain drain" debate. I'm a bit sick of people like me - "foreign talent" - being touted as a "solution". Not just today, from the mouth of Billy Lai here, but generally.

I'm not sure why more people are not saying this, because it's bleedin' obvious to me - the solution to Taiwan's brain drain is for Taiwanese employers to treat their workers like human fucking beings.

Pay them a fair wage - a wage on par with what they can earn in other countries at a similar level of development (and some that aren't, like China). Then the most talented among them won't feel the need to go abroad to seek work. Paying them more further makes it easier for them to start families, which will help slow or reverse the declining birth rate. Considering that Hsinchu County has a high birthrate (a student once told me it was the highest) in the country and is an affordable place to live while still having a number of professional jobs thanks to the tech sector, it is clear that given a reasonable income vis-a-vis expenses, that Taiwanese want, and will have, children. Save a number of women who have figured out quite rightly that traditional family roles in Taiwan don't offer them a particularly good deal in life and have therefore decided to remain child-free, if they're not having kids it's not because they've lost interest - it's because they feel they can't afford them. Pay them more and watch that magically change! WOW!

I'm a regular magician, I know.

Give them reasonable working hours. Quit it with handing them work in the late afternoon and then promoting a corporate culture where they feel pressured to stay late to finish what they've just been given. Quit it with the hiring of one person to shoulder a workload best split between two or three people - seriously, stop that. You're not helping yourself or anyone. Tired workers are not innovative, efficient or productive workers. Give them reasonable paid vacation and let them leave at a reasonable time (5 or 6 - with overtime being a rarity asked for and paid for accordingly when an issue is truly urgent - and no I don't mean like now where every issue is urgent, because they're not and you know it - and a full 2-day weekend, even if it doesn't always fall on traditional weekend days).

If they have more free time not only are they better workers - win for you! - but also they have more time to get busy, which means more kids.

Give them room for growth. Stop pushing them down and then wondering why they're not happy with it.

Stop being dicks to them - stop it with the nonsensical orders, the immature management, the babying, the corrupt practices, the passive-aggressiveness and the lying. Not every boss is like this, but for those you are - we see through you. The average Taiwanese employee is no idiot, and knows your stupid game. Why do you think they want to leave? Why do you think they aren't having kids, when they're too tired to do the horizontal tango and too broke to feel they can give their would-be kids a good life?

Basically, treat them well. 

Honestly, most talented Taiwanese who leave probably would have preferred to stay, bar a few adventurous types who just want to see the world (fair - I'm like that too). Taiwan is a great place to live. It's a developed country. It's friendly and fairly safe. It's their home, and enjoys a high standard of living and relaxed lifestyle. Few would leave if they felt they got a fair shake here. Some might start their own businesses, but many would work for you, and you'd be better for it.

So stop saying people like me - or workers from South and Southeast Asia - are the "solution" to this problem. We can and do contribute to Taiwan, and many of us do want to stay. The smarter ones among us support immigration reform, but make no mistake - we are not your easy answer.

The solution is and always was to treat your Taiwanese workers better.

Protect this with robust labor laws, and engender it with moves toward a deeper culture shift in which the crap doesn't sluice from the big roosters top through cages stacked like a chicken coop to the workers clucking below.

Treat. Your. Workers. Better.

Stop using us as an excuse. Engage with us for what we can contribute, not as a way to avoid improving local conditions. By touting us as the solution we never wanted to be to a problem you helped create, you hurt us, you hurt Taiwanese workers and you -William Lai and the entire Tsai administration - hurt yourselves.