Tech groups in Taiwan accused of locking up migrant workers

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

The accusations highlight the labor practices used to maintain Taiwan’s position as a technological manufacturing powerhouse. The country is a major hub in the chip industry – an even more important niche as the world grapples with a semiconductor crisis.

According to internal documents and employee 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 company ASE – have prevented migrant workers from leaving the housing they live in. Except for going to work.

While Taiwanese exports have boomed on the back of strong global demand for chips, servers, laptops and other equipment needed to work from home, the country has been struggling in recent weeks with its first major operations. Corona virus outbreak. Taiwan economy grew Almost 9 percent in the first quarter.

“It is now very common for employers to lock up their migrant workers,” said Lennon Wong, an activist with the People’s Service Association. A survey by a workers’ rights group found that 60 percent of migrant workers are prohibited from going out in their spare time, double the percentage before Taiwan registered them. The first major outbreak in the community In the middle of May.

Soldiers in protective suits disinfect a metro station. Taiwan in recent weeks has been battling its first major outbreak of coronavirus infection © Reuters

As of April, 713,000 migrant workers, mostly 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 electronics components.

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

Employers, who are legally required to provide accommodation and food for migrant workers, often outsource these services to middlemen who try to keep costs as low as possible. On average, between four and 12 workers share a room.

Under pressure from health authorities to prevent more factory gatherings, employers in the past two weeks have imposed new restrictions that go beyond any rules introduced by the central government.

Canon, a Japanese optical products company, confined migrant workers at its Taichung factory to their off-duty dormitories and even warned them not to chat. “Except for going to and from work, don’t leave the dormitory,” Cannon said in an internal blog. She added, “Group chatting is not allowed in the dormitory [sic]. “

Cannon acknowledged that the edict may have been too strict. “We cannot deny that the content and expression we used were excessive in some parts as a result of an overemphasis on employee and community safety. In response to questions raised from within and outside the company, we reviewed the content on June 18 in accordance with government advice,” the company said in a statement to the Financial Times. .

Migrant workers for Innolux on June 13 received a message that read: “Please be aware that you have all been locked up for 30 days starting yesterday. You are not allowed to go out anymore, so please stay in the dorm as much as possible and follow the rules imposed by innolux, all of this from For everyone’s safety! [sic]. “

Innolux said the letter was sent by the broker who runs the dormitory due to a “wrong communication” between the broker and the company.

The Amman Stock Exchange and its subsidiary SPIL in June required migrant workers living outside of work to return to their accommodation, where they were subsequently prevented from leaving except to go to work. According to two workers at ASE and SPIL, immigrant employees are required to check in at their residence with an electronic permit within an hour of their shift ending. Those who arrive late are locked and questioned.

The ASE said it has “established a policy that requires our migrant workers to adhere to a ‘point-to-point’ schedule. For example from dormitory to work and vice versa. This is to ensure that they try to stay in their university dorms/dormitories after work and avoid unnecessary trips and mass gatherings” .

SPIL said epidemic prevention measures in its dormitories are following the guidelines of Taiwan health authorities. “The company respects the choice of expat workers on whether they want to return to the dorm, and encourages them to go out less.”

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

After cluster infections hit several electronics factories in western Taiwan’s Miaoli county, local government chief Hsu Yao Chang announced on June 7 that migrant workers in the county are prohibited from leaving their factories and dormitories. The restrictions were much stricter than the soft lockdown imposed on the general population.

The move was criticized by Tseng Wen Hsueh, Member of Parliament in Miaoli. “The reason that migrant workers are at higher risk of infection is the fact that they have to live in crowded dormitories,” he said. “We shouldn’t target people because of their nationality but we should tackle the real issue.”

No central government official has spoken out against the restrictions on foreign workers. No other local government in areas with tech factories has imposed restrictions like those in Miaoli.

Some employers resort to intimidation tactics. “If you contract the Covid-19 virus, and if you die, your body will be immediately cremated in Taiwan, your family will not even be able to see your body, and your family’s financial resources will be immediately separated,” said Ali Baba, a Taiwanese citizen. Labor broker, in a letter sent to migrant workers. “If you do not die, you will be responsible for all isolation fees during isolation, medical treatment and other people who have been in contact with you.”

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