TAIPEI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – “Do you want a child or do you want a job?”
As the ultimatums grew, it was tough – but migrant workers say such life-changing dilemmas are on the rise in Taiwan as thousands of domestic workers are drawn to the country by the promise of work, sometimes with only a veil of rights.
“Far from being fair, equal or fair” – this is how Lennon Ying-dah Wong of the local NGO Serve the People Association (SPA) describes the plight of migrant workers in Taiwan.
He said workers regularly face discrimination, threats, financial exploitation and debt bondage, and some have been victims of human trafficking and forced labor.
The government says migrant workers are not prohibited from getting pregnant and is setting up a hotline for foreign workers to report any ill-treatment.
Jasmine – not her real name – was halfway through a contract as a caregiver when she found out she was pregnant.
If she wanted to keep the baby, her employer said Jasmine would have to quit her job, pay a termination fee, and return to the Philippines.
After consulting with her brokerage agency and a government labor office, Jasmine faced an ultimatum: an abortion or an expensive return ticket.
She regrets the choice she made.
Jasmine is one of more than 700,000 workers, mostly from Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, who come to Taiwan in search of work. Advocates say some then fall prey to powerful job brokers who charge them high fees to earn them work, but often fail to inform women that they have rights under Taiwanese law.
“They bought me a ticket, but I didn’t want to go,” she said. Her employer also demanded that she return a hongbao, a traditional Lunar New Year gift in cash in a red envelope.
Jasmine and her husband, who also worked in Taiwan, had borrowed money for placement fees charged by a recruiter.
“I had to repay the credit,” she said. “We had loans here. We had loans in the Philippines.
Pregnancy cost her dear – Jasmine’s broker said she had to pay a contract termination fee of NT $ 17,000 ($ 562) and purchase her own return ticket.
“They don’t want you to stay here for that reason,” the broker told Jasmine, gesturing towards her stomach and telling the 32-year-old that this situation was all her fault.
Yet Taiwanese law prohibits employers from expelling migrant workers or terminating their contracts if they become pregnant. It also bans pregnancy tests by employers or recruiters and provides maternity benefits to pregnant migrant workers.
The app, however, is inconsistent at best.
Foreign women who get pregnant often say that they feel pressured to quit their jobs and are not informed of their rights. Many flee, fearing reprisals, thus becoming illegal migrants.
The government’s manual for foreign workers in Taiwan states that employers are prohibited from unilaterally terminating contracts due to pregnancy, but could do so if workers cannot perform their jobs.
He also discourages workers from getting pregnant and urges them to use contraceptives, saying “your body will undergo changes and there are no family and friends to help you.”
The labor ministry said in an email that the ministry “does not prohibit female migrant workers from getting pregnant” and that the workers have been notified of a hotline to report any abuse.
Since 2016, 287 foreign workers have filed complaints of pregnancy-related discrimination via the dedicated hotline, he said.
Nine foreign workers have opened formal proceedings against employers for violating the law on gender equality, he added.
Jasmine said a labor official told her that her case did not violate Taiwan’s gender equality laws. The Ministry of Labor has approved two months of financial assistance for her to be housed at Serve the People Association (SPA), a local NGO.
After that, she was alone.
“The message was indirect but clear,” said Wong, the director of the shelter. “Do you want a child or do you want a job?”
Pregnant migrant workers are among the most vulnerable in Taiwan’s third-party brokerage system.
Brokerage firms, which handle nearly every aspect of a foreign worker’s life in Taiwan, are routinely accused of charging exorbitant fees, which the US State Department says makes workers “vulnerable to bondage. for debts ”.
Brokers typically align with employers in disputes, creating an imbalance of power and leaving workers with no one to turn to.
Analyn, a factory worker from the Philippines, found out she was pregnant just weeks after being fired.
Analyn says the Department of Labor has repeatedly asked her to return to the Philippines and that she provided monthly medical certificates showing that her pregnancy prevented her from traveling.
The final certificate was requested after more than eight months. “Maybe I’ll give birth on the plane,” she said.
Jasmine and Analyn say they were only made aware of their rights after seeking help from NGOs.
Very few migrant workers in Taiwan know their rights when they get pregnant, said Nicole Young of Harmony Home, a non-profit organization that helps around 10 foreign women give birth each month. Many others choose to run.
“If you are a runaway, you can be transferred wherever you want,” said 23-year-old Indonesian Putri, who fled her last employer because she was afraid to disclose her pregnancy.
BROKERS USE THE POWER
Filipino workers Maria and Rianne said their broker locked them in an apartment for three days after they chose to quit their jobs due to mistreatment.
The workers – all interviewees are identified by pseudonyms for fear of reprisal – were put in contact with the Thomson Reuters Foundation by SPA and Harmony Home.
They said they slept on cardboard boxes and only received one cookie each day.
Maria and Rianne were rescued by authorities after calling the Taiwan migrant worker hotline when their foreign passports and residence certificates were taken.
Chuang Kuo-liang, from the cross-border workforce management division of the Ministry of Labor, said 242 brokers were fined and seven lost their licenses in 2018 for labor law violations. .
Jasmine eventually decided to have an abortion, which, as a devout Catholic, went against her beliefs.
“Every night I prayed,” she said. “I always said ‘sorry because I need to do this.’ I had to pay off all that credit.
If she did it again, Jasmine said she would keep her baby.
“I’ve always wanted to have a baby boy,” she says. “I don’t know if God cursed me.
Reporting by Nick Aspinwall, editing by Lyndsay Griffiths, Tom Finn and Chris Michaud. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT + rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org