‘INHUMAN TREATMENT’: Hundreds of Thai workers in Kaohsiung took the law into their own hands to protest what they call unacceptable treatment by their employer

Tuesday, Aug 23, 2005,Page 1 Taipei Times STAFF WRITER WITH DPA , TAIPEI

Thai workers clear debris from a riot in Kaohsiung yesterday. More than 1,700 Thai workers set fire to a management shack, burnt cars and hurled rocks at police after their employers refused to allow them to drink, smoke and use cellphones when they were off work, police said yesterday. The violence erupted late on Sunday among the workers, hired to help build a mass-transit railway project in Kaohsiung.

Furious with what they saw as inhuman personnel management, some 300 Thai workers in Kaohsiung set fire at the management center, a work dormitory, cars and other facilities Sunday night, police said.

Television stations aired footage of the workers clashing with police, attacking them with rocks and bottles in the overnight riot.

Several officers were injured by rocks shot with slings by the Thai workers, while one Thai worker was injured by broken glass in the dormitory, police said.

The riot began about 9:30pm Sunday at the five-story dormitory housing 1,700 Thai workers, who are building the Kaohsiung mass-transit system. The management company was hired by the Kaohsiung Mass Transit Bureau to manage the workers’ living conditions.

“Some Thai workers clashed with management personnel, who tried to discipline the drunken workers who were shouting in the dorm. The management personnel stopped one Thai worker from using a cellphone and reportedly hit him with an electric prod,” the Broadcasting Corporation of China (BCC) reported.

Thai workers living in cramped conditions in dormitories. The lack of basic freedoms led to a riot yesterday at worker dormitories in Kaohsiung.
“The two incidents prompted the Thai workers to vent their pent-up anger at the management, so they rioted,” it reported.

In addition to the bans on alcohol, cellphones and Thai television in the dormitory, the Thai workers were required to use tokens in the dorm store, but they allege they were short-changed when exchanging the script for real money, it added.

Of the 1,700 Thai workers in the five-story dorm, some 300 took part in the riot, setting fire to management offices and cars, burning clothes and hurling rocks at police who responded to the fire report.

Police, members of Thailand’s representative office in Taipei, the construction company and the recruiting firms’ representatives were involved in negotiations with the Thai workers to end the standoff.

Authorities yesterday agreed to the demands made by several hundred Thai workers, ending the confrontation.

But officials also decided to charge the rioters and deport them for starting the riot, which cost the employer at least NT$10 million (US$322,500) in damages.

“After three rounds of talks, the Thai workers have agreed to end their protest and return to work after the management company accepted most of their demands,” said Fang Lai-chin (方來進), the director of the labor bureau of the Kaohsiung City Government.

The workers demanded that they be allowed to use cellphones, that food quality at the cafeterias be improved and that a satellite dish be installed so they can watch TV programs from their home country.

They also protested the management company’s unreasonable methods of payment — for each 100 hours of overtime, they are only paid for 46 hours.

The workers also complained that they could not take back food and daily necessities that were not purchased at the dormitory store.

The Huapan Co last afternoon agreed to most of the workers’ demands.

Fang said the labor authorities will investigate the management methods of the company and will ask that the company dismiss supervisors treating the workers in inhuman ways.

Meanwhile, officials threatened the workers who took a stand against the company with deportation. Lai Chin-lin (賴勁麟), vice chairman of Cabinet’s Council of Labor Affairs, said workers found guilty of starting the riot will be deported for violating law and order.

He said the council will also punish the employer, the Kaohsiung Mass Transit Bureau, for mismanagement by slashing by 800 the number of foreign workers the company is entitled to import to help it construct the transit system.

Asked for comments, Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) said yesterday that local employers must try their best to protect foreign laborers’ legal and human rights.

“These people [foreign workers] flew far away from their homes and came to Taiwan for jobs, and most of them are doing heavy-duty work, such as construction work. Basically, we should try to understand their feelings,” the premier said.

“Employers should pay attention to these foreign workers’ emotions from time to time, because it will be too late to do so when tragedy happens,” he said, adding that he has already directed the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) to look into the latest incident.

There are some 100,000 Thai workers in Taiwan.

Additional reporting by Jimmy Chuang

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