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End the 'slavery' endured by foreign workers now

Last week, a Taiwanese employer was indicted for forcing her Indonesian workers to eat pork despite the fact that they are Muslim. The case caught the international media's attention as the lack of respect for foreign workers does not fit Taiwan's image of being a liberal and developed country.

According to the prosecutors, Chang Wen-ling, the employer, used false documents to hire three Indonesian workers as caretakers, but she arranged for them to work in a factory instead. They were required to work long hours, from 7 a.m. to midnight. They were paid only NT$1,370 per month. They were also forced to eat pork for seven months on the premise that “pork would give them more stamina for work,” Chang said in court. She had threatened to reduce the salary of the three women if they refused to eat the meals she offered, which was the same as the ones she provided to her local employees.

We find it bizarre that this is happening in Taiwan, centuries after slavery was abolished around the world. How Chang's employees were treated was tantamount to domestic slavery. Foreign domestic workers are not slaves and they should have an equal relationship with their employers. The terms of employment should be fair and beneficial for both sides.

This is not only a case about higher values such as understanding and respecting the religious beliefs of the employees; we are talking about basic human rights. The long hours and meager salaries they were given is a clear case of the employer exploiting her employees and taking advantage of their weak position in society.

The prosecutors stated that what Chang did to her employees was against the spirit of the United Nations' “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” and “International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.”

In this regard, the case was a good first step in finally acknowledging the rights of foreign domestic workers in Taiwan, but more can be done to prevent exploitation like this from happening in the future.

The case revealed the poor working condition of Indonesian domestic workers, as well as other foreign workers from Vietnam, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries. One of the reasons for such poor conditions is that domestic helpers in Taiwan, whether they are local or foreign, are not covered by the labor law. We think that this is unfair to domestic workers, as the law should cover all proper occupations and people of all races.

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