A man’s recent experience is an all-too-common tale for migrant workers in Taiwan.
Human trafficking, the exploitation of people for profit or other motives, continues to be a growing and evolving problem worldwide, especially in countries that attract migrant workers who do jobs their citizens rightly shun.
For more than 17 years, I have worked to help victims of human trafficking and labor exploitation through the Vietnamese Migrant Workers and Brides Office (VMWBO), an extension of the Columbans’ Hope Workers’ Center in Taiwan’s Chungli City. Although the Taiwanese government claims that efforts are being made to eliminate human trafficking, many migrant workers continue to fall victim to human rights abuses.
The story of a 35-year-old man from Hà Tinh, Vietnam, is a recent example of the type of people our office tries to help.
Ngo Van Mui made an agreement with a labor agency in Vietnam to acquire work in Taiwan. The agreement was for him to work eight hours a day with overtime pay when necessary. He paid the agency $6,900 (in U.S. dollars) to find him work.
A Desperate Search For Work
When Van Mui arrived in Taichung, Taiwan, in July 2006, the agency placed him at the Limited International Eastern Co., the Taiwanese counterpart of the labor agency in Taichung. There, they locked him in for 15 days to wait for work, and he was not allowed contact with anyone outside of the company.
They had Van Mui perform sanitation services and otherwise locked him in the basement of the company building. Each day at 7 p.m., they would bring him to an unknown location about five minutes from the company building to sleep. He also was forbidden to leave that area.
After about five weeks, two labor agency representatives and a Chinese-Vietnamese translator brought him to a home to provide domestic service. When Van Mui entered, the woman of the house said she wanted an Indonesian worker, not a Vietnamese one.
The company representative convinced the woman to give him a work trial. This was his work schedule: up at 5 a.m. to do laundry, clean, cook and garden. In the evening, after preparing dinner, he was to iron clothes. He was not allowed to sleep until 10 or 11 p.m., a workday of 19 hours without overtime pay.
The work consisted entirely of domestic service, which is not what was agreed upon when Van Mui signed his contract. He consequently refused to do the unfair domestic work asked of him.
Van Mui was returned to the company where he was locked in the building, as before, for an additional 15 days. The manager and a translator told him that if he agreed to work in a domestic setting, the company would rebate an agreed-upon sum of money. Van Mui then wrote a statement declaring that he would perform domestic work upon acceptance from the household and an agreed-upon monetary rebate.
After a few days, Van Mui inquired with the labor agency about the status of working in a new household. When the manager informed him that the household did not want his services, Van Mui requested they provide him a different household in which to work.
The manager said a change was not possible and requested that he write a statement declaring his refusal to perform the domestic work.
Van Mui refused to write the unfair statement. The manager still refuses to provide a household change for Van Mui. The company then stated that if he wanted to escape, they would arrange for it. Van Mui only wanted to fulfill the contract, not to escape, so he refused.
On August 15, as he was taking out the trash, Van Mui left the company and arrived at our office to seek assistance.
Help For God’s Children
Like many migrant workers in Taiwan, Van Mui is a victim of human trafficking. He was cheated by the labor agency into paying $6,900, believing that he would be working for a manufacturing company under agreed wages and hours.
When he arrived in Taiwan, however, he was told that he must work as a domestic servant—an unregulated job without worker protections or set hours. Van Mui was locked indoors at the work site and had no access to anyone outside of those in the company for his first month in Taiwan.
Only after his escape from the company was he able to seek assistance. Now we at the VMW-BO are fighting for his fair treatment and a change in work in accordance to the signed contract.
At our office, we help victims, such as Van Mui, with full-time social workers who educate migrants about their rights under Taiwanese labor laws as well as provide psychological and legal assistance, emergency shelter, and a supportive and compassionate environment to these exploited children of God.
Columban Father Nguyen Van Hung’s work with migrant workers was honored by the U.S. State Department in its June 2006 Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.