在復原的過程中，最讓Kieu感到開心的就是認識一個名為Hội Từ Thiện Kết Nối Yêu Thương的越南組織，這是由一群願意幫助在台患病或受傷移工的志工所組成。每個星期日，這個組織會到台灣各個越南餐廳的KTV募款。去年6月八仙塵爆發生時，Kieu也曾跟著志工去安慰那些傷患，同時進行自己的康復治療。
For many of the Southeast Asian migrant workers who have left their home and families for the opportunity to work in Taiwan, the idea of coming here could not have been more appealing. The chance to earn amounts exponentially higher than their home county is enough to convince any one in poverty to leave their home country for work.
The Ideal Migrant Worker
The average wage in Vietnam stands around $150 USD or 4500 NTD according the United Nations Statistics Division. The 20,008 NTD per month figure that they could make in Taiwan could not be eclipsed by the money an average person can make at home, making Taiwan very lucrative to people with so little. Of course there is a catch to all of this. This sum is deceiving for people who come from poor countries, especially when they see a salary almost 10 times more than what they are making per month. What they don’t expect is to be essentially made into indentured servants for the first year. After all the added costs, brokerage fees, insurance and housing fees, many migrant workers are left poorer while working their first years in Taiwan than they would have been at home. In the first year, most migrant workers are left with little pocket money to even eat, unless they are lucky to be placed in a factory with heavy overtime hours, something every foreign factory worker in Taiwan wants.
For Kieu Van Dao, a Vietnamese man who arrived in Taiwan in 2004, this was still worth the price of providing for his family. Kieu worked three consecutive three-year contracts at a marble factory. At the beginning of which, he made monthly installments to pay for his 130,000 NTD brokerage fees. Even though he re-signed at the same company for each new contract, he still had to pay new brokerage fees each time. In the first years of each contract, his wages would be garnished to a pitiful few thousand NTD, from which he was supposed to pull out money to support his family at home. This was life for Kieu Van Dao, his work benefitting his employer, perhaps more so than it benefitted himself.
In August of 2013, everything changed for Kieu, who was three months into a new contract, back from a stint in Vietnam to see his wife, daughter and newborn son. He worked for such a big company for so long, and wouldn’t have expected how much the events that occurred on that day would effect the rest of his life. That day was August 17— the day he would be burned.
It was Saturday, a day that migrant workers work and just a normal day for Kieu. He had opened a barrel of wax used for shining to discover it was too solid for use, and was such instructed to use a torch to soften it up. The wax ended up causing a large fire as well as a large commotion amongst the employees. Kieu tried to stay cool and find a way to put it out, but before he could do anything, a panicked coworker kicked the burning barrel, throwing the boiling wax to onto Kieu’s body. After this, his days as a laborer were history and he found himself undergoing the excruciating pain of healing from burns which covered 75% of his body. Everything but his back, hands and head were left scarred. The painful process left Van Dao wishing for his own death.
For all of the time Van Dao had given to his company, he wouldn’t have expected them to push him aside as if he were less than human, but that is what they essentially did. They made a decision to stop paying him after some months of not being able to work. A court case ensued, and in the end, Kieu had to settle for a sum far less than he had sought in the first place, knowing if he didn’t settle for the lower amount, the case would have just dragged on past his contract period.
In May, Kieu returned home to Vietnam to be with his wife and two kids. His biggest challenge now is to find a way to make money for them once his settlement has run out. Living is cheaper in Vietnam, but not free. In Vietnam, 37-year old Kieu will have an even more difficult time finding a job in his condition. He is now helping his wife run a material recycling center she set up inside the family’s rented house. Kieu, however, is unsure if this business can provide for his family. Meanwhile he suffers working in the Vietnamese heat. The areas of his body which were burnt can no longer sweat, causing his body to simply overheat.
Underappreciated and Swept Aside
Kieu’s story is a shining example of how Taiwan’s system brutally disregards migrant workers from Southeast Asia. Unlike western ARC holders, Southeast Asian workers are not given the chance to apply for permanent residency. Instead their limit is 12 years, just long enough for the healthiest years of their bodies to be used up. After this time, they cannot work in Taiwan any more. This system is riddled with problems and discriminatory rules to keep Southeast Asians marked as outsiders instead of members of society. The brokerage fees which rob poor people of their financial freedom in the first months of their contracts are also a huge burden.
Despite all this, the opportunity for Southeast Asians like Kieu to come to Taiwan has good aspects. Kieu has said that he might be dead if he had been injured in Vietnam and he appreciates the kind care he received. He received rehabilitation care through the Sunshine Social Welfare Foundation and he also received an 800,000 NTD labor insurance payout. This money, however, quickly got used up on medicine fees and expenses back home. He now has to find out how to make ends meet for the rest of his life.
Upstanding Member of Society
While recovering from his burns, Kieu’s greatest pleasure was meeting with a Vietnamese group called Hội Từ Thiện Kết Nối Yêu Thương, which is made up of volunteers who want to help other Vietnamese in need. They assist in cases of injury, death, or illness. On Sundays groups go out all over the island to collect money in Vietnamese restaurants and KTVs. On the weekend pictured, Kieu’s group, along with other groups around the island collected almost 90,000 NTD to assist their cases. When the explosion occurred last June at the Formosa Fun Coast Water Park, Kieu went to offer his consolation to those who had been burned in the blast, while still undergoing his own painful rehabilitation.
Wouldn’t Taiwanese society benefit by having stand up people like this be able to stay here permanently? If Southeast Asians enjoyed an equal social status as everyone else, they could be very productive members of society and do great things for the island of Taiwan, but because of their nationality, they are excluded from this and held at a level lower than Taiwanese.
In Kieu’s case, his burned body would have simply been useless to the factory industry which tossed him aside. This highlights the overall attitude towards migrant workers in Taiwan: They are not looked at as people, but as tools; tools of cheap labor that have benefitted the Taiwanese economy for many years. The practice of treating migrant workers like tools rather than people needs to be changed and Southeast Asian migrant workers deserve fair treatment.