|Migrant workers display signs reading, “I want days off,” during a protest in Taipei yesterday urging the government to protect their basic human rights, including their right to have days off.
Hundreds of migrant workers and labor rights advocates took to the streets of downtown Taipei yesterday to urge the government to protect migrant caregivers’ basic right to a day off and include them within the scope of Taiwan’s labor laws.
The protesters also called on to the government to reintroduce so-called “breath-taking” services to poor families, which was popular before the introduction of migrant caretakers in 1992.
Under the program, the government provides for free substitutes to families to replace regular caregivers on their off days, giving the caregivers a chance to catch their breath from the long hours on the job.
At present, families hiring migrant caregivers are denied such services, according to the Ministry of the Interior.
“Stop enslaving me”
Chanting slogans of “I want days off” and holding banners that read “stop enslaving me,” migrant workers from Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, along with tens of local labor rights groups, marched along Zhongxiao East Road to the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall to urge the government to include migrant caregivers in the Labor Standards Act and allow them days off.
The estimated 700-1,500 marchers tied yellow ribbons to their foreheads and performed folk dances, drawing the attentionof passers-by to a rare protest in which migrant workers took the leading roles.
The rally was intended to help people like Vietnamese national Pham Thi Hong. She has worked as a caregiver in Taiwan for four years, and said she has to work 18 hours a day without ever having a day off.
She said she had to agree to the terms written into her contract or she could not have come and worked in Taiwan.
Indonesia caregiver Yulia faces a similar burden.
“It is a horrible thing to work seven days a week. In addition to taking care of an elderly person, there is endless housework to be finished every day, said the 29-year-old Indonesian.
“Our employers do not let us rest or take days off. All that I want is a day of rest, even one day a month will be enough,” she said, adding that she would work even harder if she were allowed to take one day off per month.
Yulia is currently waiting to work for a new employer because the elderly woman she had taken care of for the past two years passed away.
Yulia said the employment contract she signed with her broker states that she has four days off every month, but her former employer would not allow time off, arguing that the Indonesian would have her salary reduced and would run into bad influences outside the house.
Lorna Kung, secretary-general of Scalabrini IMN-Taiwan, told the Taiwan News that the employment contracts signed between migrant employees and their brokers do not provide basic human rights for migrant caregivers.
“Migrant caregivers are like orphans without any systems to protect them, and they are seriously exploited. They are sacrificed under a deficient social welfare system in Taiwan,” Kung said.
She urged that a better vacation system for migrant caregivers be established because the parties providing and receiving care would both benefit from the change.
Difficult to achieve
Responding to migrant workers’ call to include migrant caregivers in labor laws, Council of Labor Affairs Deputy Chairwoman Tsao Ai-lan said it would be difficult to achieve.
But she suggested that foreign laborers could file complaints through local labor officies if they were treated unfairly, and the offices would take instant action against the maltreatment.
She also said it would be difficult to introduce services to give caregives a break, because there were already shortages of local caregivers. She urged families with seriously ill patients to spend more time with their relatives to allow caregivers time to rest.
There are about 360,000 migrant workers in Taiwan, of which 160,000 of them work as domestic caregivers.