By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — It was 36-year-old Siony Torzar’s second time to work as a factory worker in Taiwan. She hoped to provide for a better future for her two children. But she ended up deeply in debt instead. Worse, she, like other OFWs in Taiwan, received no help from the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO), the de facto Philippine Embassy in Taiwan, when she needed it most.
Torzar was accepted to work in Taiwan as a machine operator for a textile company. Her contract stipulates that she would receive a salary of New Taiwan $15,840 ($500) and a board and lodging allowance amounting to NT $2,500 ($79). She paid P70,000 ($1,582) for her placement fee. To raise this amount, she borrowed P50,000 ($1130) from a lending company and the other P20,000 ($452) from her relatives.
“I did not mind paying the high placement fee because I was promised that we could work overtime,” she told Bulatlat. Upon arriving in Taiwan on September 20, 2006, a company employee told them to sign a new contract. The new contract stipulates that they would be paid based on the work they accomplished.
Torzar said there were days when she only got NT$ 50 ($1.58) a day, especially when she was assigned to operate the machine that made zippers. “It is impossible to make a dozen in four hours,” she said.
Under such exploitative working conditions, Torzar was forced to work from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. She hardly was able to pay for her debts. On top of this, there was no board and lodging allowance in their new contract. Her daily expenses were deducted from her meager salary. “I could not even buy my own sanitary napkin.”
This was not the kind of life she dreamed of, especially for her two children.
Unfair Labor Practices
In June 2008, a group of Filipino workers filed a complaint against the textile company for unfair labor practices. In January 2009, Torzar was fired without prior notice.
“We asked for the assistance of the Legal Aid Foundation, a nongovernment organization, to provide us with a lawyer because we wanted to sue the company” she said, “We did not bother to ask MECO because we were discouraged by what they did to those who were fired before us.”
Torzar said when six of her former colleagues who were fired before her approached MECO, they were only given a translator not a lawyer. She added that she heard the translator was not even fluent in Chinese. “They were later on told by MECO that if they would not withdraw the case, the six of them would be sent to jail.”
“MECO officials are always siding with employers because they are afraid that employers might withdraw their job orders in the Philippines,” Torzar said.
Torzar and her Filipino co-workers are demanding for the implementation of the contract they signed in the Philippines, which included overtime and holiday pay. They also filed a human trafficking case against the textile company. This time, however, they asked for the help of MECO, which sent one of their staff to accompany the OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) to seek the legal assistance of the Legal Aid Foundation.
Worse, all through out their struggle in Taiwan, MECO sheltered them for only a week. During the other one year and three months ,they stayed at the Home Workers Center, a shelter ran by a Catholic priest, a certain Fr. Peter.
“This only proves how inutile MECO officials are,” she said, “They are always telling us that they are short in budget.”
Inutile, perhaps, but never short in budget. At least not yet.
Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez said MECO should be placed under scrutiny because of the complaints that it has been receiving from OFWs. He said they are receiving reports that MECO officials are getting “all sorts of allowances, incentives and bonuses even if their performance has been found lacking in the past.”
Martinez is calling for a Senate investigation of MECO officials. He said MECO officials should not receive incentives because they just sit and watch while Taiwanese companies continue to implement massive lay-offs and illegal retrenchments since 2009.
In fact, Martinez said, MECO failed to address the massive labor rights violations committed against 1,000 OFWs who were retrenched without separation pay and without being provided with food and airfare back to the country. OFWs were also made to pay a 20 percent income tax despite having only worked in Taiwan for less than 183 days.
Of the 1,000 OFWs, 161 came from Walton Advanced Engineering Inc., 162 from Inotera, 127 from Tripod, 62 from Ichia Technology, 42 from Chipmos, 32 from Sintek, and 400 more from different Taiwanese companies.
“The 1,000 OFWs were not given any compensation despite being retrenched. They even had to pay for their own airfare back home. All these violations were committed with the full knowledge of MECO officials,” Martinez said.
“MECO officials acted in defense of the companies and their brokers by forcing them to sign a voluntary resignation paper and quit claim instead of pushing for the rights of OFWs.”
Torzar said there is a need for MECO officials to undergo a re-orientation about the role of OFWs in keeping the economy afloat. She called on President Benigno S. Aquino III to drop his earlier plans of cutting the budget for the assistance of OFWs.
“Where would OFWs go?” she asked, “These cases are happening despite the meager budget allocated for services for OFWs. How much more if the new administration would continue to cut it?”
Like most OFWs who were deployed to Taiwan, Torzar still has a pending case before the National Labor Relations Commission. Others agreed to a settlement. Sadly, there were those who opted to risk working again in Taiwan for lack of a better option.
Torzar said she would continue fighting for her rights until justice is served. (Bulatlat.com)