A major Taiwanese manufacturer is forcing some migrant workers to leave their private homes and return to shared accommodation at the height of the worst Covid-19 outbreak on the island since the pandemic began, sparking accusations of discrimination and double standards.
ASE, a semiconductor manufacturer, told its workers in Chungli’s Taoyuan district, about 50 km (30 miles) from the capital Taipei, that those living independently in private rentals should “return to their bedrooms immediately,” or receive “a major demerit.” Three of those demerits are punishable by dismissal, the notice says.
It establishes that residents will be prohibited from leaving the dormitories except to go directly to work and vice versa. Those who are late face being blocked and sanctioned. Workers cannot do their own shopping or receive visitors.
Such restrictions do not apply to the Taiwanese community in general. The island is currently under a Level 3 alert, allowing for gatherings and freedom of movement.
Taiwan has recorded more than 12,000 local cases and 360 deaths since mid-April. Hundreds of cases have been detected in four factories in Miaoli County, mainly among migrant workers and related to the conditions of crowded dormitories.
Central government orders require the number of people per room in migrant workers’ accommodation to be significantly reduced to reduce the threat of infection among residents, but do not provide further details, such as a maximum number per room.
Images seen by The Guardian allegedly from one of the ASE workers’ dormitories show rows of bunk beds on either side of the narrow room, with sheets draped around the edges to give the occupants some privacy. Residents said they share bathrooms, sometimes with workers on different shifts or workers from other companies. Many migrant workers choose to live in private houses where one or two people share a room.
An ASE spokeswoman confirmed both the return instruction and demerits for its 3,000 migrant employees, but defended the policy.
When asked about the allegations that it was discriminating against its migrant workers, he said: “ASE will do everything possible to comply with the regulation. We work under a lot of pressure and policies that may seem draconian and unfair, but we call on our colleagues to comply with regulations until case numbers decrease. We appeal to your understanding. The rules are strict for a reason. “
He said the company was not breaking any rules and was taking people into bedrooms “to protect them from further outdoor exposure as well as to prevent cross-infection.” He said the company was also arranging other accommodations, including nearby university hostel rooms, with the goal of having a maximum of four people per room.
Similary Restrictions have been ordered on migrant workers living in dormitories. by the Miaoli County Government, prompting Health and Welfare Minister Chen Chih-shung to “remind” local authorities that they can only implement measures in line with level 3 restrictions, which allow freedom of movement.
The Guardian spoke to dozens of workers who fear they may be fired or sent home by speaking out. They stressed that they had no problem with work or pandemic security measures on the factory floor, but believed that the shelter order put them all in much greater danger than if they stayed in their own homes and practiced social distancing.
“We all want to return to the Philippines with our families and loved ones alive. We don’t take risks, so we don’t agree to go back to the dormitory, ”said a woman, who currently lives in her own accommodation near the factory.
The ASE spokeswoman said the company had also increased bedroom cleaning and disinfection, implemented social distancing measures and was providing internal counseling to distressed employees and financial incentives not to break the rules “as a gesture of support.”
‘Double standards’ for migrants
Taiwan’s migrant worker population is seen as vulnerable and unlikely to speak out against employers, according to rights groups, who also point to weak labor laws in Taiwan.
The situation is drawing comparisons to Singapore in early 2020, when officials were accused of overlooking migrant dormitories as part of their response to the otherwise lauded pandemic, which sparked massive outbreaks among workers.
“We know from the Singapore situation that migrant workers who are confined to their dormitories and are not allowed to leave also face psychological adjustment problems, and some of them have been known to take their own lives in Singapore,” said Roy Ngerg, a Taipei writer. covering labor and human rights issues. He said Taiwan had extensive warning about the dangers.
Lennon Ying-dah Wong, director of migrant worker policy at the Taoyuan Serve the People Association labor organization, said the decision to send the workers back to the dormitories was “highly questionable.” “The Covid-19 virus will not be controlled simply by locking migrant workers inside the factory.” Wong said.
“It is totally unfair and unjustifiable to continue this double standard for migrant and Taiwanese workers in the factory.”
The AS spokeswoman said the company was working closely with the government to protect all employees “regardless of their nationality.”
“We have already reinforced precautionary measures to ensure their safety and we are following strict directives from the Taiwanese Ministry of Health and Labor,” he said.
“ASE is committed to international standards … that govern the well-being of employees and safeguard their rights. Our clients audit our sites on a regular basis and we have always been transparent with our policies and conduct. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism