A Work Week in Taipei
Three Filipinos recently surfaced in a Taipei press conference to reveal their sad ordeal after being admitted into a work/study program in a university in Taiwan.
In all, there were about 50 Filipinos recruited by a manpower agency to participate in the program at Yu Da University of Science and Technology in Miaoli.
They alleged that they were made to work long hours which prevented them from effectively preparing for the classroom aspect of the program.
The complainants also accused supervisors in the tile manufacturing company where they were made to work of subjecting them to verbal abuse.
Their contracts also contained onerous provisions requiring them to reimburse all expenses and imposing stiff penalties if they expose their conditions or attempt to break their contracts.
During the past two years, Taiwan authorities have encountered similar allegations from work/study program participants who came from Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
It is a program that seems to have been taken advantage of by manpower agencies who collect as much as NT$2,000 or about P3,400 per recruit per month, given that the lure of being able to work and study as well, sounds better to aspiring overseas workers.
Although Taiwan authorities are pro-active in ensuring the welfare of its foreign labor work force, it cannot possibly check all contracts entered into by overseas workers, especially if it circumvents established procedures on hiring nationals from other countries.
The work/study programs of Taiwan universities is a noble undertaking if not for these incidents of abuse. It creates unique educational opportunities for our kababayans, which also enable them to independently support themselves during their stay in the island.
Potential participants, however, should be wary and are advised to verify with the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Manila, or any of its offices in Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung, to ensure the legitimacy of the programs they want to avail themselves of.
Our education and development cooperation officers have achieved a good level of cooperation and means of communication with the Taiwan Ministry of Education that could possibly help avert unfortunate incidents of abuse and exploitation.
In fairness, the university management has since apologized for failing to immediately detect the adverse conditions of the Filipino students and has pledged to refund their expenses. It also offered to provide assistance to the affected students should they wish to transfer to other schools offering the same program.
Taiwan authorities have likewise endorsed the incident to prosecutors for possible filing of criminal cases.
Just before we wrapped up last week with this positive development, another controversy sprung from public pronouncements made by the newly-elected Mayor Han Kuo-yu of Kaohsiung City, rejecting propositions to hire English teachers from the Philippines.
The charismatic mayor, whom I had the chance to meet shortly after his astounding electoral victory last November, was also quoted as referring to Filipinos as “Marias,” a term that has gained negative undertones when used to refer to overseas workers.
In a letter subsequent to the stir created by the mayor’s public statements, I expressed our deep regret upon the impetuous and undeserved remarks, reminding him of the fact the Philippines is actually the fourth largest English-speaking country in the world, with more than 92 percent of its citizens able to speak it as a second language.
Even local peoples’ groups cried foul over the mayor’s statements, prompting him to issue a public apology last Saturday.
During the past months, MECO has been initiating programs, small as they may be, to train and create opportunities for our blue collar workers in the island to land English teaching jobs. These programs are part of efforts to improve the quality of our workers in Taiwan.
Taiwan upon the other hand also wants to develop a bilingual work force, with English as the second language. The potential for English teachers is there, just as there is an opportunity for Filipino students to learn applied mathematics, engineering, agriculture, marine sciences, and so many other fields of higher learning in Taiwan.
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The work week was capped on an exhilarating note, with the Manila Concert Choir performing a very impressive repertoire of songs for the Filipino community at the Red House building in Taipei.
The 26-member choir earlier in the week performed at the Tzu Chi University in Hualien, and then at the Alethea University in New Taipei, before regaling the leaders of the Filipino community in Taipei with their mix of popular English and Filipino songs.
The serenade soothed our nerves and uplifted our spirits, but above all, while evoking nostalgia about home, the concert also made everybody in the audience proud to be Filipino.