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October 1999, Volume 6, Number 10

Taiwan: Migrant Fight

About 1,000 Filipino workers in Taiwan asked to be returned home after a fight with Thai workers at a Formosa Plastics Group's petrochemical complex in southern Taiwan on September 5. The Filipino workers said that they feared for their lives; they reported being virtual prisoners inside a dormitory. About 300 Filipino workers have already left; the Philippine government was working to expedite the departure of remaining migrants who wanted to return home. FPG employs 18,000 foreign laborers--8,500 from Thailand, 7,300 from the Philippines, and 1,700 from Indonesia.

There were several reports that the clash began after two Filipinos allegedly beat a Thai national over the use of a pay telephone. Seventeen people were injured during the fighting and about 500 police were used to end the clash. It was the worst violence involving foreign laborers since Taiwan started importing foreign labor in 1989.

There was speculation that the clash would lead Taiwan authorities to restrict the employment of foreign workers. On September 7, a Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker called on the government to reduce the importation of foreign labor, saying that the fight at FPG showed that Taiwan was becoming a powder keg. The FPG chairman had proposed setting up "special foreign worker export processing zones" on offshore islands so that clashes between foreign workers would not affect Taiwanese; the DPP legislator charged that island factories would be "concentration camps for foreign laborers."

In July 1999, there were 283,740 foreign workers in Taiwan, including 166,465 in manufacturing; 54,288 caretakers in private homes; 52,928 in construction; 9,057 household helpers; and 1,002 seamen. The foreigners included 137,661 Thais; 116,080 Filipinos; 29,514 Indonesians; and 485 Malaysians. Monthly wages for foreign workers in Taiwan are higher than elsewhere in Asia: US$580 US a month in Taiwan; US$470 in Hong Kong; US$208 in Singapore; US$190 in Malaysia; and US$140 in Brunei.

Brokers. Most foreign workers are brought into Taiwan by labor brokers, many of whom charge fees to both foreign workers and Taiwanese employers. The Philippines is negotiating an agreement that would permit Taiwanese companies to recruit Filipino workers directly. Announcement of this agreement prompted the 260-agency Taipei Association of Manpower Agencies (TAMA) to threaten to stop recruiting Filipinos.

Vietnam is expecting to send 2,000 workers to Taiwan by the end of September, 1999 under a newly signed guestworker agreement--15 Vietnamese companies have been authorized to send Vietnamese workers abroad, namely Song Da Construction Corp, Vinaconex, LOD, Suleco, Techsimex, Vietracimex, Interserco, HMSC, Thanh An Corp, Electricity Construction Corp, Coalimex, Tracodi, Sovilaco, Sona and Tracimexco. Under the bilateral agreement, Vietnamese workers must pay for their airfare to Taiwan and the Taiwan employer will pay for the return ticket. Twelve percent of the Vietnamese worker's salary will be paid directly to the Vietnamese government.

China. The Taiwanese Mainland Affairs Council announced in September that, subject to Legislative Yuan approval, the annual quota of mainland spouses allowed to settle in Taiwan will increase from 1,800 to 3,600.

There are currently 50,000 mainland spouses of Taiwan resident who are waiting for permits to enter Taiwan. Under current regulations, mainland Chinese who have been married to ROC nationals for two years and have children can apply to settle in Taiwan if there is an unused slot.

In September 1999, more than 2,000 people died in Taiwan's strongest earthquake on record. Thousands of Filipinos have reportedly lost their jobs and returned home. Philippine President Joseph Estrada called on labor and trade officials to find ways to absorb the returning workers.

The Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry said that the Philippines electronics industry expanded 20 percent between July 1998 and July 1999 and he hoped that the electronics companies could hire some of the displaced workers.

"Philippines addresses workers displaced by Taiwan quake," Asia Pulse, September 27, 1999. "Vietnam to send 2,000 workers to Taiwan," Saigon Times, September 8, 1999. Deborah Kuo, "Some 1,000 Filipino workers choose to leave Taiwan," Central News Agency, September 8, 1999. "Filipino worker going home after violent confrontations" China News, September 9, 1999. "Taiwan to import Vietnamese workers," Deutsche Presse-Agentur, September 10, 1999. Flor Wang, "Lawmaker urges reduction of foreign labor," Central News Agency, September 7, 1999. "Thais Clash with Filipinos," Nation, September 7, 1999. Lilian Wu, "Mainland spouses of Taiwan residents say increased quota not enough," CAN, September 3, 1999.