TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Over 40 Eswatini students who thought they were realizing their dream of studying abroad were disheartened when they encountered harsh working conditions and long hours in a chicken processing plant in western Taiwan.
In yet another case of foreign university students being coerced into working in factories, UDN reports that in 2018, MingDao University recruited over 40 students from Eswatini to take part in a work-study program. However, once they arrived in Taiwan, they soon found themselves working long hours in a frigid factory skinning chicken carcasses.
The program, advertised in June of 2018, was called the "Taiwan Work/Study Scholarship" and offered applicants "hands-on practical and work experience" while earning a Bachelor's in Business Administration. The advertisement claimed each student would earn a monthly wage that would cover tuition, accommodation, insurance, and other fees while still leaving 3,000 Swazi lilangeni (US$167) a month to spare for extra spending money.
Once the students began the college program in Changhua County's Pitou Township, they were shocked to realize they were being sent to a freezing factory with temperatures hovering below 10 degrees Celsius to peel chicken skin. What they encountered in Taiwan was reminiscent of the case of over 40 Sri Lankan students from Kang Ning University who were duped into working in a slaughterhouse.
As early as November of that year, Eswatini local newspaper the Eswatini Observer reported the students were complaining that they spent most of their time working eight hours a day, five days a week under difficult conditions, leaving them only one and half days to attend classes. The newspaper cited one source as saying, "It is depressing for them, and many if not all of them regret taking up this opportunity and want to come back home."
Taiwan's ambassador to the Kingdom of Eswatini, Jeremy Liang (梁洪昇), told the paper that he had just been informed of the situation and that "the matter was being looked into." Liang said he had helped the students process their applications to the university and had not been aware of the conditions of the workplace they were to be assigned to.
Yu Jung-hui (尤榮輝), chairman of the Union of Private School Educators (UPRISE), said 47 students were recruited for the program and had been promised that it would cover four years' tuition, room and board, and NT$6,000 (US$200) per month for living expenses, reported ETtoday. Instead, Yu said they were used for "slave labor" and that MingDao University is "almost an international fraud" and called for an investigation.
An investigation by the Ministry of Education (MOE) found that the school illegally required Eswatini freshmen to work outside the school in "internships" for more than 20 hours a week. The ministry then told the university that the students could continue their education at the school but that the institution could not ask them to work to offset their tuition and fees; it also barred the school from enrolling foreign students in 2021.
However, the school as of late has unilaterally changed its method of reducing tuition and fees, requiring a certain number of hours for service learning, reported China Times. This led to some students feeling that their rights and interests were being affected, so they complained to the MOE.
According to the ministry, MingDao University has been required to devise measures to improve the teaching and living conditions for the Eswatini students. It has also called on the university to propose a solution to the tuition and fees agreeable to both sides as soon as possible so as to safeguard the rights and interests of students.
Chou Chien-ming (周建明), vice president of MingDao University, responded to the allegations by saying that two years ago, the university chose a nearby chicken factory as the site of its internship. However, he said that after a few weeks, the students requested a change of internship, so the university assisted them in finding new employers.
Chou claimed that at present, the school assists students in finding legal work and study opportunities and offers assistance in reducing expenses or finding other work-study opportunities. Chou also claimed that the school has reached a consensus with students.
The school official pledged that in the future, if there is a situation in which students are having difficulties paying their living and study expenses, the school will seek the assistance of the MOE and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The university sent a statement about the incident to Taiwan News in which it emphasized six key points, including that it did not use labor brokers, that the students were to work three days a week and take classes three days a week, and that the students were provided proper protective clothing of the kind available to other employees.
It also said the students could choose the employer that best suited them, that the tuition and fees were explained in English before they came to Taiwan, and that courses were taught in English or bilingually, while Chinese language study courses were provided to improve their Mandarin.
Advertisement for work/study program. (Facebook, Black Beautiful Africa)