DAVAO CITY — Unlike most overseas Filipino workers who lost their jobs in Taiwan, Isabelita Atis, 29, felt relieved when her plane finally touched down at the Davao International Airport in December last year. She was among the 6,468 thousand overseas Filipinos laid-off in Taiwan after 95 Taiwanese companies were forced to trim down their workers as an effect of the global financial crisis.
Atis said she was glad she got rid of her exhausting job, which was supposed to end in January this year. Unlike other OFWs from Taiwan, she had no debts to pay and had also put up a decent amount of savings.
Other retrenched workers were not as lucky. Those who were laid off with Atis were worried how to pay their debts and how to find another job to support their families.
The Manila Economic and Culturual Office (Meco) in Taiwan reported 13,408 more OFWs who lost their jobs in different parts of the world from October 2008 to February 2009.
Some of those who lost their jobs stayed in Taiwan for less than a year and had mounting debts to pay.
They had taken the risk of working abroad because of lack of opportunities in the Philippines but even before they could recover the money their families used to send them away, they were back in the Philippines with uncertain job prospects.
Despite her marketing degree, Atis worked as a factory worker in Taiwan. For two years, she worked for an electronics company Lite-on Technology, where she assembled mobile phones, tested and calibrated printed circuit boards.
Workers like her earned a monthly pay of 15,840 Taiwan dollars (20,275 pesos at the exchange rate prevailing during the period).
But in 2005, Lite-On Technology moved to China, leaving Atis and several workers out of job.
Semiconductor foundry Episil Technologies Inc., a producer of silicon wafers, hired Atis as a machine operator in January 2006. Part of her work was the processing and designing of wafers that could be used for appliances, airplanes, and cars among others.
But Atis said workers at Episil were pushed to the limit. Each worker had to operate 13 machines for ten hours every working day. They were not allowed to sit down. While working, they had to stand and were allowed to rest only during meal breaks. They were also exposed to radiation and chemicals like boron and sulfuric acid used for cleaning the wafers.
Workers received a monthly pay of 17,240 Taiwan dollars (29,308 pesos at the prevailing exchange rate during the period). For overtime, they were paid 72 Taiwan dollars (Php 122.40) per hour.
They were granted a day’s off after every three consecutive working days each week but when the company had a lot of orders, workers supposedly on a day off were still called to work.
When the global financial crisis hit Taiwan in October 2008, Episil announced that their overtime work was cut. A month later, the company told workers their contracts would no longer be extended.
In November 2008, foreign workers at Episil were sent home. The POEA reported that 400 OFWs from the export and manufacturing companies in Taiwan were retrenched in the second week of November.
The Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) reported that 35,000 OFWs working in Taiwan were retrenched, 30,000 of them in the manufacturing sector.
Taiwanese companies continued to retrench workers the following months. Foreign workers whose contracts had not expired were also advised to have an “early-exit” to allow Taiwanese workers to work. Some of those sent home early this year had contracts that were supposed to expire in June.
Atis said Episil made them sign papers that said they had “voluntarily” resigned from the company even if they were only forced to do so.
Those who worked at Episil for less than a year received a 50-thousand peso (34,770.3 Taiwan dollars) separation pay. Atis said it was not even enough to pay for the placement fee they incurred from lending companies, which charged an interest rate of as high as 70 percent.
Atis said she didn’t think the 50-thousand peso separation pay was fair. Those who worked for more than a year, like her, did not receive any separation pay at all. They only got a free airfare back to the Philippines.
Migrante International, a global group assisting Filipino migrant workers, said some of the retrenched OFWs in Taiwan were intimidated into signing agreements that were disadvantageous to them. Migrante cited the case of 162 retrenched OFWs from Walton Advanced Engineering Inc. (WAIE).