Filipino university students forced to work in Taiwan tile factory

Filipino students accuse broker, Taiwanese university of work/study scam

Student working at plant. (Photo from St. Christopher's Church)

Student working at plant. (Photo from St. Christopher's Church)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Three Filipino master's students came forward yesterday to accuse manpower brokers and a Taiwanese university of a work/study scam.

At a press conference held yesterday by DPP Legislator Chang Liao Wan-chien (張廖萬堅), three Filipino students, identified as Raymark, Trixie and Joel, testified about their experiences being duped by a labor broker and exploited for manual labor by Yu Da University of Science and Technology (YDUST) in Miaoli.

The students, who were among 52 enrolled in a work/study program at YDUST, allege that they were compelled to work 40 hours per week at a tile manufacturing plant, double the legal limit. They say that they also were subjected to verbal abuse from factory managers, including Taiwanese curse words.

A master's student, identified as Joel, testified that he signed a contract Philippine broker named "Faith Association" to take part in a work/study program at YDUST. However, when he arrived at the school in 2018, he was asked to sign a different contract which included two financial penalties.

Raymark (left), Trixie (center), and Joel (right). (CNA image)

The first penalty was a fine of US$1,000, which must be paid to "Faith Association," if he refused to accept the work he was asked to do or decided to resign. This would also result in a termination of his contract with the broker.

The second penalty was a fine of NT$500,000, if they told anyone of the "job location, nature of the job, and length of duty hours." When they asked why there had been such changes to the contract, they were told "please respect the contract."

Trixie testified that her classes were scheduled from Monday to Thursday from 9:10 a.m., while her assigned job at a tile factory was from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Describing the hardships of the grueling schedule, Trixie said ,"I couldn't control my tears every morning, and I can't even move my fingers out of pain, and the pain would only be relieved after pouring hot water from the shower for a few minutes."

Student working at tile factory. (Photo from St. Christopher's Church)

Raymark said that not only did he have to pay US$1,000 in advance to the broker in the Philippines, but he also had to pay NT$2,000 a month after he arrived in Taiwan. He said tuition fees were deducted from his salary every month.

As for the working conditions, Raymark was surprised that it was "hazardous and hard labor not related to our course," reported CNA. He said that having the foreman shout and curse at him in Chinese whenever he made mistakes was "harder than the work we are doing," according to the report.

DPP Legislator Chang Liao Wan-chien (張廖萬) said that the school stated that the hourly salary for the students was NT$150 per hour and the working hours were 12 to 20 hours per week. However, the actual schedule was found to be 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for 40 hours a week.

Students working inside tile factory. (Photo from St. Christopher's Church)

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Huang Kuo-shu (黃國書) criticized the university for turning international students into "cheap slave laborers." Huang said that if the school knew about this practice, is an accomplice of the broker.

Huang said the incident not only damaged the rights and interests of international students, but also affected Taiwan's international reputation. Huang called on the Ministry of Education (MOE) to conduct a thorough investigation.

Deputy Education Minister Liu Meng-chi (劉孟奇) first apologized to the aggrieved international students. He said that the whole incident would be handled with the protection of the students' rights and interests as the top priority.

Building on campus of YDUST. (CNA image)

One student's monthly salary was reported to be NT$24,640, but out of that they were charged an NT$2,000 counseling fee, NT$11,000 in tuition, and a transportation fee. Liu criticized the school for conspiring with the illegal broker to force students to sign unequal agreements and exploit them.

Liu admonished universities to "not challenge the determination of the MOE." He also criticized the schools for forcing the students to sign the unfair agreements, which were "abhorrent and totally illegal."

Liu said that a thorough investigation will be carried out, and the MOE will work with other academic institutions on placing the students elsewhere. Liu said that these working conditions "crossed a red line."

Liu warned that if academic institutions have been found to have violated the law, the MOE will punish them severely and expose the names of the schools.

The case is similar to news of 40 Sri Lankan students duped into working in slaughterhouses and 300 Indonesian students forced to work in a contact lens factory.