A major Taiwan manufacturer is forcing some migrant workers to leave their private homes and return to shared accommodation at the height of the island’s worst Covid-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic, drawing accusations of discrimination and double standard.
ASE, a semiconductor maker, told its employees in Taoyuan District of Chungli, about 50 km (30 miles) from the capital Taipei, that those who live independently in private rentals should “return immediately. in their dormitories â, or receiveâ a major demerit â. Three of those demerits are punishable by dismissal, the notice says.
It states that residents will be prohibited from leaving dormitories, except to go directly to work. Those who are late risk being locked out and penalized. Workers cannot do their own shopping or receive visitors.
These restrictions do not apply to the entire Taiwanese community. The island is currently under Level 3 Alert, allowing 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 at four factories in Miaoli County, mostly among migrant workers and linked to overcrowded dormitories.
Orders from the central government require that the number of people per room in migrant worker accommodation be drastically reduced to reduce the threat of infection among residents, but offer no additional details, such as a maximum number per room.
Images seen by the Guardian believed to be from one of the ASE workers’ dormitories show rows of bunk beds on either side of the narrow room, with sheets hanging around the edges to give occupants some privacy. Residents said they shared bathrooms, sometimes with workers from different shifts or workers from other companies. Many migrant workers choose to live in private homes in which one or two people share a room.
An ASE spokeswoman confirmed both the return instruction and the inconvenience for their 3,000 migrant workers, but defended the policy.
Asked about accusations of discrimination against its migrant workers, she said: âASE will do its best to follow the regulations. We work under a lot of pressures and policies that may seem draconian and unfair, but we call on our colleagues to obey regulations until the number of cases decreases. We appeal to their understanding. The rules are strict for a reason.
She said the company was not breaking any rules and was returning people to dormitories “to protect them from additional exposure outdoors, as well as to prevent cross-infection.” She said the company is also arranging other accommodation, including rooms at nearby university hotels, with the aim of having a maximum of four people per room.
Similar restrictions on migrant workers living in dormitories have been ordered by the Miaoli County government, urging the Minister of Health and Welfare, Chen Chih-shung, to “remind” local authorities that they can only implement measures that comply with the level 3 restrictions, that allow freedom of movement.
The Guardian spoke to dozens of workers who fear speaking out could see them made redundant or sent home. They stressed that they had no issues with work or pandemic safety measures at the factory, but believed that the accommodation order put them all in much greater danger than if they stayed at home and practiced social distancing.
âWe all want to return to the Philippines to our living families and loved ones. We are not taking risks, which is why we refused to go back to the dormitory, âsaid a woman, currently living in her own accommodation near the factory.
The ASE spokeswoman said the company had also increased the cleaning and disinfection of dormitories, implemented social distancing measures and provided internal counseling to distressed employees and financial incentives not to violate the rules “as a gesture of support”.
“Double standard” for migrants
Taiwan’s migrant worker population is seen as vulnerable and unlikely to speak out against employers, according to rights groups, which also note weak labor laws in Taiwan.
The situation draws comparisons to Singapore in early 2020, when officials were accused of neglecting migrant dormitories as part of their otherwise lauded pandemic response, leading to massive outbreaks among workers.
âWe know from the situation in Singapore that migrant workers who are confined to their dormitories and not allowed to leave also face psychological adjustment issues, and some of them are known to have committed suicide. in Singapore, âsaid Roy Ngerg, a Taipei-based writer covering human rights and labor issues. He said Taiwan had been given ample warning of the dangers.
Lennon Ying-dah Wong, director of migrant worker policies at Taoyuan’s Serve the People union organization, said the decision to return the workers to dormitories was “highly questionable.” âThe Covid-19 virus will not be controlled simply by locking migrant workers inside the factory. Said Wong.
âIt is totally unfair and unjustifiable to continue this double standard for migrant and Taiwanese workers in the factory.
The ASE spokeswoman said the company was working closely with the government to protect all employees “regardless of their nationality.”
âWe have already tightened precautionary measures to ensure their safety and are following the strict guidelines of the Taiwanese Ministry of Health and Labor,â she said.
âASE is committed to upholding international standardsâ¦ which govern the well-being of employees and protect their rights. Our customers regularly audit our sites, and we have always been transparent with our policies and our conduct. “