Electronics groups including Japan’s Canon and Innolux, an affiliate of supplier Apple Foxconn, have been accused of blocking migrant workers in Taiwan as a Covid-19 fire hits the country’s technology industry.
The indictments highlight the labor practices used to support Taiwan’s position as a manufacturing powerhouse of technology. The country is at the forefront 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 largest chip packaging and testing company ASE – have banned workers migrants to leave the dormitories where they are staying to go to work.
While Taiwan’s exports have grown alongside strong global demand for chips, servers, laptops and other equipment needed to work from home, the country has been working on its first big one in recent weeks. flare-up of coronavirus infections. In Taiwan the economy is growing almost 9 percent in the first quarter.
“It has now become extremely common for employers to lock down their migrant workers,” said Lennon Wong, an activist for the Serve the People Association. A survey by the labor rights group found that as many as 60 percent of migrant workers are barred from leaving in their spare time, double the percentage before Taiwan registered its employment. first significant focus of the community in mid-May.
As of April, 713,000 migrant workers, mostly from the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, were employed in Taiwan, accounting for 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 done a lot of harm,” Wong said.
Employers, who are legally required to provide accommodation and food to migrant workers, primarily outsource these services to brokers who seek to keep costs as low as possible. On average between four and 12 workers share a room.
Under pressure from health authorities to prevent other factory clusters, employers have imposed in the last two weeks new restrictions that go beyond any rules introduced by the central government.
Canon, a Japanese optical products company, confined migrant workers to its Taichung factory in its dormitories when it was out of service and even prevented them from chatting. “Apart from and from work, don’t leave the bedroom,” Canon said in an internal blog post. He added: “Group conversation is not allowed in the bedroom [sic]. “
Canon acknowledged that the edict might be too narrow. “We can’t deny that the content and expression we used was excessive in some parts due to focusing too much on the safety of employees and the community. In response to questions raised from within and outside the company, we reviewed the content on June 18 in accordance with the government’s advice, ”the company said in a statement to the FT.
Migrant workers for Innolux received a message on 13 June stating: “Please be informed that you have all been locked up for 30 days since yesterday. You are not allowed to leave anymore so please stay alone in the bedroom as long as possible and follow the rules imposed by the innolux company it is all for everyone’s safety! [sic]. “
Innolux said the message was sent by the broker who runs the dormitory due to “wrong communication” between the broker and the company.
ASE and its June subsidiary SPIL asked migrant workers who lived outside the dormitory return areas, where they were then banned from leaving except to go to work. According to two workers from ASE and SPIL, the migrant staff is required to sign in to their dormitory with an electronic pass within one hour of their shift. Those who arrive late are locked up and questioned.
ASE said it had implemented a policy that required our migrant worker employees to adhere to a “point-to-point” schedule, for example from the dormitory to work and vice versa. This is to ensure that they seek to stay in their dorms / residences after work and avoid unnecessary trips and group meetings ”.
SPIL said epidemic prevention measures in its dormitories follow the guidance of Taiwan’s health authorities. “The company respects the choice of migrant workers on whether they want to return to the dormitory, and encourages them to leave less.”
However, instructions issued to staff on June 5 state: “To protect the health of all employees, the company has banned all employees from leaving. […] the company and the dormitory check the time from the factory to the dormitory every day ”.
After cluster infections hit several electronics factories on the Miaoli mainland in western Taiwan, local government chief Hsu Yao-chang announced on June 7 that migrant workers in the county have been banned from leaving. their factories and their dormitories. The restrictions were much tougher than the suffocation blockade that was imposed on the general population.
The move was criticized by Tseng Wen-hsueh, Miaoli lawmaker. “The reason migrant workers are exposed to a higher risk of infection is the fact that they have to live in crowded dormitories,” he said. “We don’t have to target people for their nationality but face the real problem.”
No central government official has spoken out against the restrictions on foreign workers. No other local government in areas with technology factories has introduced restrictions like those in Miaoli.
Some employers resort to scare tactics. “If you are infected with Covid-19, if you die, your body will be burned 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 sent 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.”