Showing posts with label indonesia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label indonesia. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Of course Taiwanese employers should pay foreign worker recruitment fees


I don't have a good photo, but this captures how I feel about the entire slimy brokerage system. 

Over the past few weeks there's been an ongoing feud between the Indonesian government and the Taiwan Ministry of Labor, and I'm going to state without hesitation that Indonesia is almost entirely in the right, and the Taiwanese government is almost entirely in the wrong. 

According to the Taipei Times, as COVID19 recedes in Asia and recruitment of foreign blue-collar workers resumes, the Indonesian government informed Taiwan that Taiwanese employers of foreign workers would be expected to pay 11 types of recruitment fees beginning on January 1st. These include: 

...labor brokerage fees in Indonesia for caregivers, domestic workers and fishers; and the costs of labor contract verification, criminal records certificates, overseas social security premiums and overseas health checks, as well as transportation and accommodation in Indonesia prior to departure, the ministry said.

The Taiwan Ministry of Labor has rejected the request, giving a few reasons. First, that more information is needed on these fees, as it's not clear how much they would amount to, and second, that there's an agreement in place that all changes to foreign worker recruitment must be negotiated bilaterally before they are put in place. 

That sounds reasonable on its face. If there's already an agreement that changes must be bilaterally negotiated, it would make sense to insist on sticking to that. The lack of clarity regarding what the costs actually are would be a reasonable issue to bring up. "Asking for more information" also seems like a sober move. Any government would want to ensure that its citizens are not exploited. 

This is what I would say if I believed that when it came to foreign workers, the Ministry of Labor was acting in good faith. That is, I would have to believe that if the Indonesian government came to the Taiwanese government with a list of issues with the current fee system, that the Ministry of Labor would be amenable to working out a fairer deal for the workers, even if it meant meaningfully dismantling the brokerage system and putting some fees on Taiwanese employers. 

Do you think that that's how it would go? Because I have...doubts. The Taiwanese government promotes its human rights record extensively, at least when it comes to Taiwanese citizens. Yet shows shockingly little interest in protecting the human rights of foreign blue-collar workers residing in Taiwan.

There is a clear power imbalance between relatively wealthy, industrialized Taiwan, where there is a market for overseas labor, and Indonesia, where that labor might be recruited. There is also a massive power imbalance between employers -- families desiring foreign home care employees, factory owners and companies, and fishing concerns -- all of whom have more resources than the workers they are looking to hire. 

When talking about unknown costs that might impact employers, it's crucial to remember that the system is already exploitative towards Indonesian workers. They often end up in debt before they even leave Indonesia, as a lot of these costs are foisted on them: 

Migrant workers and workers’ rights groups have long complained about having to fully bear pre-employment costs. The problem lies in the current hiring system, which allows brokers to charge migrant workers exorbitant fees that usually take years to repay and require loans even before the workers depart for Taiwan, the groups said.

I find it hard to believe that the people recruited know the costs involved before they sign up; if they're not clear to the government, how are they clear to the individuals recruited? And yet, they're expected to pay. Although much of this happens to workers residing in Taiwan, the Ministry of Labor has seemed fine with it so far.

If the government truly cared that the costs were unclear, then they would have done something about it by now rather than letting brokerage firms saddle those least able to pay with the burden.

In fact, the Taiwanese government does not have a good track record at all when it comes to the treatment of foreign blue-collar labor. Foreign domestic workers (who make up more than half of the workers in question) have fewer protections as they are not covered by the Labor Standards Act, and abuse is rampant. Slavery -- as in, you are going to work for me and I am not going to pay you, and if you disobey I will beat you -- is frighteningly common on Taiwanese fishing boats, to the point that I've mostly given up eating seafood in Taiwan. Rather than dealing with this, the government has been planning to exempt fishing workers from mandated overtime and work hour limits, in effect legalizing the exploitation. Foreign factory worker abuses are routinely uncovered. The brokerage system piles many more fees on top of this process, all of which fall on the heads of people who are already poorly paid. It gets worse. From the original Taipei Times article: 

In addition, the brokers usually side with employers to exploit migrant workers, forcing them to perform jobs that are not in their contract, migrant workers’ rights advocates have said.


That's not even the worst of it. They also make it harder, not easier, for abused workers to get help when they need it. In what I believe is the same case linked above, it was clear that the brokerage agency first told the worker "not to get pregnant" rather than help her deal with being raped. In a recent case, an alleged sexual assailant of a newly-arrived Indonesian worker was a broker himself. In another, it was a town councilor

The Ministry of Labor is surely aware of this. It's been extensively reported on, as shown by the links above, yet it continues. When their first priority is making sure that well-resourced Taiwanese (including families that can afford to hire a domestic worker) get the best possible deal regardless of how it impacts the foreigners who take these jobs, do you trust them to negotiate fairly with the Indonesian government to fix one small part of the system -- the fees?

Me neither.  

Once here, workers are routinely subject to discrimination and outright racism. One small example (and not even of the worst kind) popped up in my own community, where someone posted signs in large Bahasa Indonesia script admonishing people not to litter, with a much smaller Chinese translation below. The Indonesians in the neighborhood aren't the litterers, though -- it's mostly local teenagers who take over the community picnic tables after dark, and the occasional thoughtless grandpa. 

Every time people like me (that is, foreign professionals, often from wealthy Western countries) complain about some way in which the government doesn't factor our existence into their policies, we must remember that foreign blue-collar workers face the same issues, with far worse on top of that. 

Any government would want to ensure that its citizens are not exploited, and the Indonesian government is trying to do just that. They are quite smart to see that the Taiwan Ministry of Labor is never going to make it easy to give these workers a fair deal. It makes sense, looking at that power imbalance, and the way such workers are already treated, that they would unilaterally insist on a change. 

The brokerage system simply needs to be abolished; it offers little or no value. I know some Taiwanese employers prefer using it, but they would still be able to recruit workers without it, with far less inconvenience than the workers currently going through it face. 

Most of the other fees should always have been paid by the employers. Flights, contract verification fees, health and criminal checks? If your labor is desired so much that an employer in a foreign country is willing to go to the effort to recruit you, then they need to pay such fees, period. That would be true even if they weren't then offering low wages to the workers. Frankly, any school who wants to hire foreign teachers should also be paying for all of this, and the only reason to complain less about it is that (mostly unqualified) English teachers hired to work in buxibans generally have more access to resources than foreign blue-collar workers, and a better solution would be to cultivate more Taiwanese talent for English teaching jobs. That doesn't make it right, though.

The only good point that the Ministry of Labor has is that clarification of the fees is needed. Despite the concern being raised by Taiwan Report, it's highly unlikely that any worker would -- or would be able to -- spend exorbitant sums on pre-travel expenses in Indonesia, but forcing clarification on brokerage fees would shine a light on a slimy, diseased system and just might disinfect it a little. 

Of course, that would make the brokerage firms unhappy as they thrive, like bacteria, on that lack of clarity. It makes exploitation possible. And the Ministry of Labor is clearly more interested in allowing the brokerage system to continue and lowering costs for Taiwanese employers rather than ensuring that all residents of Taiwan, including foreign workers on its soil, are treated fairly. 

And, again, if they actually cared about clarifying the fees, they would have done so back when the country's most vulnerable residents were forced to go into indentured servitude to pay them.

Instead,  the government is allowing recruitment from other countries to cover the expected dearth in employees from Indonesia. There seems to be little interest in fixing the same system that exploits Indonesian workers, which will then presumably be able to shift its infected focus on workers from other countries. 

No worker should be pushed into a pay-to-play system: there shouldn't be fees required when taking a job. If Taiwanese employers want foreign workers enough to go to the trouble of recruiting them, they should be able and willing to pay for that, period, not foist associated costs onto the very people they are hiring. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

One of those stupid year-in-review posts (#8 will shock you!)

I mean, I generally don't like these and I am not sure I have ever done one. But I feel like doing one for 2016 because the general consensus seems to be that it was a shit year and we're thankful it's over. And on a societal level, that's true.

However, there's something I really can't deny - in fact, on a personal level, I had a pretty good 2016. I did! My shit year was Dec 2014-Dec 2015, for reasons you know if you know me.

So, this isn't to gloat, it's to point out that a bad year on a sociocultural level doesn't necessarily equate to a bad year in total. I am sure good and bad things happened to us all despite the fact that the world is in a political shambles and we're probably all going to die.

A look back:

1.) Taiwan elected its first female president and, for the first time in its history, is not controlled by the (awful) KMT (not that I particularly love the DPP) - I know this isn't personal but it's worth mentioning. A few of these are not personal, but I think good enough to include

2.) My cousin spent several months in Taiwan

3.) I published my first ever journal article

4.) I passed the final module for, and received the full diploma for, the Cambridge Delta

5.) I was accepted into grad school

6.) I visited the US twice

7.) American women had the chance to vote for the first ever female presidential candidate (no, she was not a perfect candidate, and yeah, that turned out kinda bad, but I refuse to give up on that milestone in political history)

8.) I accomplished what I feel is my greatest achievement to date

9.) The Taiwanese legislature got the wheels rolling on marriage equality

10.) Hong Kong elected a slate of pro-democracy, pro-localization candidates (that, again, didn't turn out well thanks to Stupid China, but it still meant something)

11.) I made a fair number of interesting new friends

12.) I went to the Grand Pasta'ai

13.) I went to Vietnam for the first time (post forthcoming) and Indonesia for the second

14.) I traveled a fair bit around Taiwan, visiting Tainan three times, Kaohsiung, Yunlin, Xinpu (again, post forthcoming), and probably more that I can't recall exactly as I try to leave Taipei frequently to keep in touch with the rest of the country

15.) My closest and oldest friend in Taiwan got married

16.) I went to Hong Kong for the first time in five years (again, post forthcoming)

17.) Taiwan actually made the international news (kind of a mixed blessing though)

18.) I was invited to observe a session of the Legislative Yuan - watch my video here!

I would call that a pretty good 2016, wouldn't you? At least, it offers a chance to see the good parts, or find a few gems among the burnt rubble of the political and social sphere. Don't get me wrong, things were bad. The whole world with the possible exception of Taiwan is trending towards reactionary politics and fascism. The climate is, well, getting worse and it will probably be a massive problem very soon. A horrific mass murder and total destruction of a once-great city took place very close to my ancestral home, and the West did nothing. We elected quite literally the worst person in the world to be the leader of the "free world", a thing (I don't mean the event, I mean the "person") I can never accept as my president. As a result, I no longer consider myself American in anything but name and have no loyalty whatsoever to the USA. There is no forgiveness for this.

So yeah, things are bad globally. But personally, I have a few gems.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Indonesia: Baluran National Park


I actually rather want to finish these Indonesia posts so I can get into some traveling I've done in Taiwan recently (two trips to Tainan, one to Kaohsiung and one to Yunlin) as well as put up a few photos from our weekend in Hong Kong, so here's the last one!

After hiring a driver to take us to the airport in Solo, we flew to Banyuwangi, which is not exactly the most hopping town, but the only way to get from Solo to Baluran is to do it this way (other options include train with transfer in Surabaya, or a very slow train service that takes a more direct route but is so exceedingly slow that it will take you a good day and a half to get there with a transfer in some no-name town about halfway. There is no bus that I know of). We wanted to get away from the usual "temple, temple, temple, shopping" tempo of the rest of our trip and thought a stop in a little-visited national park, especially one known for having a beach overrun with monkeys, would be just about right.

When we got to Banyuwangi's Blimbingsari airport, we realized two unfortunate things: first, that there is no public transit from the airport to anywhere; and second, that the airport is 9km south of town while the bus station with buses heading to the park is several km north of town. There was literally no other choice but to take a taxi, as expensive as that was (and it was - it came to over IDR400,000 which is quite a bit for Indonesia, though not that expensive by other standards).

So we took a taxi to the bus station, bus (which tried to cheat us) to the national park entrance, and scooters from the entrance 12km to the coast, past some gorgeous scenery. We started at 7am and got to the beach just after sunset.

We didn't do much at the beach - the weather was grim so we didn't even really swim (we did go wading). I have a thing about not liking to swim on very overcast days unless I'm indoors. We rented the wooden bungalow farther from the hotel and canteen and immediately wished we'd rented one of the concrete cabins just because the very first thing that happened was a mouse scurrying about. We saw two mice in total and scared them off, and got the park rangers to seal off the mouseholes and spray something to repel them...we didn't see them again but also didn't sleep particularly well. This was also the only accommodation we had with a mandi (local-style bathroom), but we knew that going in so it wasn't a big deal. I prefer Western bathrooms when I can get them but I'm not averse to using something like a mandi.

Oh yes, and the canteen was closed the day we were there, so the rangers were nice enough to pick us up some food when they went to the other cabins further inland with the mountain view (where there is a general store and small restaurant more likely to be open). So we got gado-gado with rice for breakfast and ramen and local potato-chip-like snacks for the rest of the day. We'd also brought some cookies, coffee and tea. It was not fun at all keeping the food where we didn't think mice would come after it.

Also, we couldn't eat outside even though we had a lovely little patio overlooking the beach, because the place really was overrun with monkeys (and you do not want a troupe of monkeys to see you eat). They were literally more of a herd, a force of nature, than a group. Locals who day-tripped to the beach and weren't prepared found motorcycle helmets stolen, bags grabbed, unzipped and rifled through, snacks seized and gobbled down. They would try to come on our porch when we were reading and we'd have to wave a broom around and talk to them sternly the way we'd talk to our cats. Once, one of them figured out we were eating inside and got up on the porch, perched himself in the window and watched us eat, his little macaque face pressed against the glass as we slurped instant noodles.

This is not to say we didn't like our very rustic stay. I loved hanging out on the porch reading books as the weather changed above us, walking to the mangrove estuary, walking in the other direction to a string of more secluded beaches where we found interesting seashells (which we did not keep) and played in the water, or just sat on the beach and talked, watching the monkeys play.

The next morning we got up, had a leisurely meal of nasi goreng and coffee, arranged scooter rides back to the main road and caught the bus to Surabaya. We had to change buses once to one that was decidedly worse, and we got caught in traffic and had to navigate the dodgiest bus terminal in perhaps the entire country, but on the bright side, I had a nice long friendly chat with a local guy who could speak English and had a refreshingly feminist worldview (and knew a lot about Taiwan as his job was gathering edible seaweed, and he sold it to a Taiwanese guy).

Unlike life in Taiwan, or my study abroad in India, or to some extent life in China, when you take these short excursions, you don't get the same chances to interact with locals and understand, a little more deeply (if not terribly deeply) the lives, experiences and perspectives of people with experiences very different from your own. So, when the chance does present itself I'm always pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, we landed up in Surabaya later than we'd have liked, had dinner at a fancy shopping mall and a few drinks at the Hotel Majapahit with our Hungarian friend in Surabaya, and flew out the next morning. We had half a day and an overnight in Singapore on the way back which I thought was great, because I'm always happy for a chance to enjoy some time there, and then it was back to Taipei and the daily grind. (Perhaps in a future post I'll throw up a few Singapore snaps).

As usual, here are the links to the other posts about this trip:

Solo (Surakarta)
Baluran National Park



















Saturday, July 23, 2016

Indonesia: Solo (Surakarta)

Well hello there Mister Mister

So, I have to admit, we didn't see much in Solo proper. We arrived in the evening and stayed at the wonderful Roemakhoe Heritage Hotel, a hotel situated in an Art Deco house with close attention paid to decoration and detail and tons of original elements. Also we got a room for something like $45 US/night, because Indonesia is a country where you can get great deals on accommodation (our hotel in Borobudur was even cheaper and it came with a full bathtub and was also very nice). Included at Roemakhoe is afternoon tea, and one of the best things to do on a monsoon-pouring afternoon in the whole city is to just hang out in their Indonesian Art Deco (basically Dutch colonial) restaurant and drink tea and eat the free banana-based sweets that come with it while reading novels.

The next morning we arranged a car to take us to two temples on a nearby hillside, through gorgeous tea fields and up winding mountain roads; Candi Sukuh and Candi Cetho. These two temples are more indicative of a native Indonesian style rather than having the flavor of Indian or other Southeast Asian imports (though both are of Javanese Hindu origin from the 15th century). Other temples have stronger Buddhist or Hindu influences, these were devoid of such callbacks, having more of a Pacific Islander/Oceanic feel. Also, way more penises. WAY more. In the pictures below, Candi Cetho is the one that looks like a crazy alien dimensional portal, and Candi Sukuh is the one that looks like a pyramid imported from Mayan ruins. I don't know much more about these temples so I'll leave it there rather than try to disingenuously play the expert on Indonesian temple architecture and religion.

We had then planned on seeing some sights in Solo proper (we decided to head for the mountain first as the monsoon rains tend to hit in the afternoon - rather like in Taiwan - and it's easier to get around a city than a mountainside in a downpour). But, well, by the time we got to the kraton (local ruler's palace), it was closed for the day due to low tourist turnout, probably thanks to the rain. We went to the other kraton, the smaller but more beautifully decorated Mangkunegaran Palace, to find it had been closed for days in preparation for the wedding of some younger son of the family. So, we were driven in driving rain to the Danar Hadi batik museum to find that the museum itself was closed: the rains had caused part of the roof to fall in. But the store was open, so we just went shopping! Kind of a shame, I know, but frankly it was all OK. We did our shopping then returned to Roemakhoe for tea and to read away the afternoon, and left the next morning.

Hanging out at Roemakhoe

Note: we actually saw Candi Kalasan and Candi Sari, mentioned in the Prambanan post, on the way to the airport at some ridiculous time like 7am. They're right on the way, and we'd missed them due to rain on the way to Solo. So, our driver gamely stopped at both. I included them in the Prambanan post for ease of reading as they are geographically better categorized there, not in Solo.

Check out my other posts on Indonesia:

Surakarta (Solo)
Baluran National Park

Anyway, enjoy some photos!




















Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Indonesia: Prambanan

So, the reason I've been a bit quiet this week is that I've been writing an article on a specific component of my teaching practice for an Australian journal. Nothing too scary academic, because I don't have research results to publish or anything like that (ha ha, like anybody pays me to do research, funny joke ha ha). When it's published in September I'll link it here, just as I did with my story about King Boat Festival in How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? which, if you haven't read, you really ought to.

Anyway, writing that article took a lot out of me, so I'm abdicating today and putting up a few more pictures from our trip to Indonesia in February. I also have posts about recent trips to Tainan, Kaohsiung and Yunlin and a weekender to Hong Kong to write about - I haven't just been hanging out in Taipei these past few weeks!

So, enjoy Prambanan in the rain.

This was a side trip between Borobudur and Surakarta (Solo), on a part of our trip that had us mostly visiting old temples. The easiest way to do this is to hire a car and driver - which you can do remarkably cheaply - and have them take you not only to Prambanan but a few of the other smaller temple complexes in the area, including the Plaosan group of temples, some more temples to the south and, near the town of Kalasan, the stand-alone temples of Candi Kalasan and Candi Sari. More than anywhere else these are influenced by the Hindu dynasties that once ruled in Java, meaning that if you've ever been to India and seen crumbling temple ruins there, these will look quite familiar. That said, the occasional Southeast Asian artistic flourish does become apparent if you look closely, especially on window and door lintels through the temples, even as the main gods the temples were built to worship are entirely of Indian origin.

All of these temples were built between the 8th-10th centuries AD.

Doing this properly, including time to stop and eat, and exploring temples beyond the Prambanan main complex before heading to Solo will take you most of the day, but unless you're slowed down by heavy monsoon rains or your driver gets a bit lost trying to find your final destination in Solo (as ours did), you can be sure to get from Borobudur to Solo before nightfall.

This was an interesting monsoon-y day to visit Prambanan, alternating between sunshine with fluffy white clouds and sheets of pouring rain - and the photos reflect this! We got caught out in the rain more than once, and Brendan ended up soaked. We also met and chatted with a nice Taiwanese guy and his wife, and ended up eating with them - it was great to be able to break out the Chinese that week and communicate clearly with someone other than Brendan and our friend Laszlo in Surabaya!













Check out my other Indonesia posts:

Surakarta (Solo)
Baluran National Park

...and maybe someday I'll blog my 2008 Sumatra trip, which I took before even starting this blog!