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Mock referendum gives voice to migrants' grievances and rightful demands

Taiwan News, Taiwan, 21 November 2017 - Upon reading news articles from different Taiwanese news outfits, including Taiwan News, I am expressing solidarity with the migrant workers in Taiwan, who mostly come from Southeast Asian countries like Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand and are participating in mock referendum organized by Migrant Empowerment Network in Taiwan (MENT) and Taiwan International Workers Association.

Some of the migrant workers from the said countries have worked in Taiwan for 25 years as construction workers, factory workers, caregivers and fishermen, often working in unfavorable conditions. The said initiative is laudable since it empowers migrant workers to participate in policy making processes, especially in crafting laws for the protection of migrant workers. Which is of course, a part of democracy.

As stated in a news article here at Taiwan News, it says that the poll is being held from September 17 to December 10, with the final results to be announced at a migrant workers' parade on December 17.

The three reasonable issues presented by MENT in the mock referendum are as follows:

1. Domestic workers and caregivers to be included under the protection of Labor Standards Law.

2. Abolish the broker system and instead promote a government-to-government hiring system.

3. Freedom to transfer to new employers.

These three issues brought up at the referendum stem from different situations encountered by migrant workers. There are times that the workers have to pay a hefty amount of brokerage fees in order to find job in Taiwan.

At present, workers have no freedom to change their employer.  And worse, migrant workers including foreign national caregivers, are not covered by the Labor Standards Act.

It is very sad to know that while migrant workers are exerting effort in providing good services, they are always ending up at the losing end, with no fixed time for work and rest. Also, some of their salaries go directly to brokers.

MENT is right. Even though they are migrant workers with no Taiwanese identity, they contribute to the progress of Taiwan's economy. Through their creativity, industriousness and dedication, they provide excellent goods and services that satisfy the need of Taiwanese people.

Yet, they are discriminated against. The said referendum is not meant to ask for so-called "royal treatment," but instead they are asking for equal treatment and protection under the existing labor laws.

The said referendum for migrant workers held in Taiwan reminds me of Philippine history wherein Dr. Jose Rizal and other Filipino elites formed the Propaganda Movement or La Liga Filipina campaigning for the following demands: the Philippines being a part of Spain, representation of Filipinos to the Spanish legislature, equal treatment of Filipino and Spanish people according to the law, secularization or Filipinization of Filipino parishioners and freedom of speech and assembly.

Are there any similarities when I site a particular event in history? Well, definitely yes! Although they are different in time and situation, they are both seeking equal treatment under the law.

Given that the existing electoral system in Taiwan denies migrant workers the right to vote to pressure politicians in Taiwan to heed their demands, this activity initiated by a group of migrant workers in Taiwan is timely. It is high time to voice their grievances and rightful demands, so that the people and government of Taiwan can be aware of their plight.

With the existing system that denies the people to speak, collective action is justified as proven in different parts of the globe, until victory is achieved.


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