Tech groups in Taiwan accused of locking up migrant workers

Electronics groups including Japanese Canon and Innolux, a subsidiary of Apple supplier Foxconn, have been accused of locking up migrant workers in Taiwan as a Covid-19 outbreak hits the country’s tech industry .

The charges highlight labor practices used to maintain Taiwan’s position as a technology manufacturing powerhouse. The country is a mainstay of the chip industry – an even more crucial position as the world faces a semiconductor crisis.

According to internal documents and staff communications seen by the Financial Times, the companies, which also include Siliconware Precision Industries (SPIL) – a unit of the world’s largest chip packaging and testing house ASE – have banned the migrant workers leaving the dormitories where they live. except to go to work.

As Taiwan’s exports have exploded on the back of strong global demand for chips, servers, laptops and other equipment needed to work from home, the country has faced its first major in recent weeks. outbreak of coronavirus infections. from Taiwan the economy has grown almost 9% in the first quarter.

“It has now become extremely common for employers to lock up their migrant workers,” said Lennon Wong, an activist with Serve the People. A survey by the labor rights group found that 60 percent of migrant workers are banned from going out during their free time, double the percentage before Taiwan registers its first major community epidemic in mid-May.

Soldiers in protective gear disinfect a metro station. Taiwan has battled its first major outbreak of coronavirus infections in recent weeks © Reuters

As of April, 713,000 migrant workers, mainly from the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, were employed in Taiwan, representing 8 percent of the country’s workforce. More than 60 percent work in factories, including those that dominate global supply chains for electronic components.

“Discrimination against migrant workers in Taiwan is systemic, but the pandemic has made it much worse,” Wong said.

Employers, who are legally obligated to provide migrant workers with accommodation and food, mostly outsource these services to brokers who try to keep costs as low as possible. On average, between four and twelve workers share a room.

Under pressure from health authorities to prevent further factory consolidations, employers over the past two weeks have imposed new restrictions that go beyond rules introduced by the central government.

Canon, a Japanese optical products company, confined migrant workers at its Taichung factory to their dormitories when they were not on duty and even warned them against gossiping. “Except for coming and returning from work, don’t leave the dorm,” Canon said in an internal blog. He added: “Group chatting is not allowed in the dormitory. [sic]. “

Canon acknowledged that the edict may have been too strict. “We cannot deny that the content and expression we used was excessive in some parts due to too much focus on employee and community safety. In response to questions raised inside and outside the company, we revised the content on June 18 in accordance with government advice, ”the company said in a statement to the FT.

Innolux migrant workers received a message on June 13 that read: “Please note that you have all been locked up for 30 days from yesterday. You are no longer allowed to go out so please stay in the dormitory as much as possible and follow the rules imposed by the innolux company it’s all for everyone’s safety! [sic]. “

Innolux said the message was sent by the broker who manages the dormitory due to “erroneous communication” between the broker and the company.

ASE and its affiliate SPIL demanded in June that migrant workers living outside the premises return to dormitories, where they were then prohibited from leaving except to go to work. According to two employees of ASE and SPIL, migrant staff are required to register in their dormitory with an electronic pass within an hour of the end of their shift. Those who arrive late are locked out and questioned.

ASE said they have “put in place a policy requiring our migrant employees to observe a ‘point to point’ schedule. For example from dorm to work and vice versa. This is to ensure that they try to stay. in their dorms / residences after work and avoid unnecessary travel and group gatherings.

SPIL said that epidemic prevention measures in its dormitories follow the guidelines of Taiwan’s health authorities. “The company respects the choice of migrant workers whether or not to return to the dormitory and encourages them to go out less.

However, the instructions given to staff on June 5 read: “To protect the health of all employees, the company has prohibited all employees from going out. […] the company and the dormitory will check the time from the factory to the dormitory every day.

After cluster infections hit several electronics factories in Miaoli County, western Taiwan, local government chief Hsu Yao-chang announced on June 7 that migrant workers were banned of the county to leave their factories and their dormitories. The restrictions were much tighter than the soft lockdown that was imposed on the general population.

This decision was criticized by Tseng Wen-hsueh, a Miaoli lawmaker. “The reason migrant workers are at a higher risk of infection is the fact that they have to live in overcrowded dormitories,” he said. “We must not target people for their nationality, but address the real problem. “

No central government official spoke out against the restrictions on foreign workers. No other local government in areas with tech factories has introduced restrictions such as those in Miaoli.

Some employers resort to fear-mongering tactics. “If you are infected with Covid-19, if you die, your body will be cremated immediately in Taiwan, your family will not even be able to see your body, and your family’s finances will be immediately disconnected,” said Alibaba, a Taiwanese. labor broker, in a message to migrant workers. “If you do not die, you will be responsible for all costs of isolation during isolation, medical treatment and other people who have been in contact with you.”

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