Employer will allow drinking in dorms, pay overtime wages
2005-08-23 / Taiwan News, Taiwan/Politics, Staff Reporter / By Chang Ling-Yin

More than 100 Thai workers burned down a building and clashed with riot police early yesterday morning outside their cramped Kaohsiung dormitory to protest their treatment at the hands of a management consulting company hired by the Kaohsiung Rapid Transit Corporation.

More than 100 Thai workers burned down a building and clashed with riot police early yesterday morning outside their cramped Kaohsiung dormitory to protest their treatment at the hands of a management consulting company hired by the Kaohsiung Rapid Transit Corporation.

The workers calmed down, however, at around 1 a.m. yesterday morning after 470 riot police were brought in, and the crisis was further defused yesterday afternoon when the management company agreed to 14 of the 16 demands made by the migrant laborers during the protests.

The riot erupted Sunday night near a construction site for the Kaohsiung MRT system in Kangshan where the protesting Thais work. Tempers flared after the building’s security personnel barred three Thai workers from bringing cigarettes and liquor into the dormitory.

Thai workers told the Central News Agency they were then beaten for the disruption, the last straw in their mounting discontent over the management company’s strict work and living rules and unfair treatment.

More than 100 Thai laborers joined their angry colleagues in burning down the management office and setting fire to four cars, while slinging stones at police and firemen on the scene. The clashes left behind an estimated NT$10 million in damage.

The rioters “threw stones at us, trying to stop us from putting out the fire,” an unnamed firefighter told a television station.

Several workers and police were slightly injured, a police officer said.

The company charged with managing the subway project’s 1,728 Thai workers, Hua Pan Administration Consultant Co. Ltd., won the job through a KRTC tender, but resentment has been growing over the company’s perceived injustices.

KRTC official Liu Ke-chiang said yesterday that the protesters confessed that a riot had been planned for some time because of the mounting dissatisfaction, including charges that some of the supervisors frequently beat the Thai workers.

Worker representatives asked the KRTC to replace their supervisors or send the workers home.

While the KRTC apparently denied the request, Liu indicated managers would be dismissed if an investigation into their behavior found they had treated the Thai workers inappropriately.

After nearly 12 hours of negotiations, the management company and KRTC did agree to some of the worker demands, including: improving the workers’ living conditions; allowing them to use cell phones and have alcoholic beverages in the dorm; paying the workers for the actual number of overtime hours worked; not forcing them to work on holidays; and not using violence to discipline them.

Also at the meeting were officials from Thailand’s representative office, the local police precinct and the District Prosecutors Office.

Some 1,700 Thai workers hired to build the MRT system in Kaohsiung City return to their shabby and crowded dormitory after some of them rioted against local contractors over poor living and working conditions on the weekend./Central News Agency
The workers earlier indicated that they often put in 100 hours of overtime every week but were only paid for 46 hours of work.

In addition, many workers contended it was unreasonable for their Taiwanese supervisors to prevent them from taking food and daily commodities to the dorm, forcing them instead to buy these necessities at the company canteen using substitute currency provided by Hua Pan.

Some workers charged that they only received NT$0.80 to NT$0.85 in substitute money for every Taiwan dollar they earned in income.

The company also installed electronic gambling machines in the dorm that also would only accept the substitute currency.

While the majority of the 1,728 workers in the dorm are likely to hold on to their jobs, the police vowed that those who led the clashes or violated the law would be repatriated to Thailand, a promise backed up by the Council of Labor Affairs (?quot;委會).

Bureau of Employment and Vocational Training Director General Kuo Fong-yu (郭芳?) added that to prevent foreign workers from jeopardizing public security, they would be prohibited from returning to Taiwan to work if they broke the law here.

Kuo also indicated that the bureau would suspend plans to bring in an additional 900 foreign workers requested by the KRTC to complete the project.

Meanwhile, the CLA announced yesterday it would step up its supervision of enterprises hiring 100 or more foreign workers to ensure that scenes like the one in Kaohsiung Sunday night are not repeated.

CLA deputy chief Lai Chin-lin (賴勁麟) said the riot not only affected social order but also damaged Taiwan’s global image.

He said the CLA will invite scholars, experts, officials from the Thai representative office in Taiwan, and representatives from human rights groups to form a task force to investigate the case.

Lai also said that in order to prevent similar incidents from happening again, the CLA will set up a special team to make unannounced checks on companies that employ more than 100 foreign laborers to make sure their living conditions, including food, lodging and other care provided by the management, comply with CLA regulations.

According to statistics compiled by the CLA, there are about 700 companies in Taiwan that employ 100 or more foreign workers.

Thailand has the largest contingent of foreign workers in Taiwan with 94,742, followed closely by workers from the Philippines (85,024) and Vietnam (82,491).

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