The China Post staff
Protesting what they called "unfair and unjust" treatment, more than 100 foreign workers, mostly Thais, staged the severest riot ever involving alien labors in Taiwan near Kaohsiung City. They burned houses, cars and facilities, and attacked police Sunday night before being subdued by riot police. No serious injuries were reported.
The incident occurred when several Thai workers returned Sunday night to their dormitory at Kangshan in Kaohsiung, the island's second largest City, with liquor and cigarettes, which are banned from the premises.
When they were prevented from entering the dormitory, the angry foreign workers who had been unhappy for a long time about the rigid and unreasonable treatment vented their anger by burning houses, breaking glasses, and throwing stones at the management staff, some of whom were beaten up, according to the police.
Riot police were called in to restore order, and the rioting workers sent delegates to negotiate with the human resources company that brought them to work in Taiwan. The negotiations went on until a little past 7:00 a.m. yesterday.
Witnesses said the workers actually turned the area into a "battlefield" with offices ransacked and extensive littering of burned garbage and beverage cans.
The management of Huapan Manpower Consultant and Management Co. estimated that the riot caused a NT$10 million loss to the company.
The government has dispatched Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) officials down to Kaohsiung and staff of the Thai representative office in Taipei also came forward to try and mediate.
By noon, peace returned to the Kangshan foreign workers' living quarters that were built to accommodate 3,000 people hired to build Kaohsiung's mass rapid transit system. At present, only 1,700 foreign workers, mostly Thais, are living there.
Thai workers were seen taking the initiative to clean up the mess they had created, while the construction work for the mass rapid transit (MRT) systems was brought to a standstill for one day.
Both police and prosecutors said they have started to gather evidence with a plan to charge those who led the rioting.
The workers presented a long list of 16 requests to improve their living and working conditions as well as payment terms.
They complained that the company, Huapan Manpower Consultant and Management, still owes them overtime pay incurred last year. They were only paid for 46 hours for every 100 hours of overtime, they said.
The workers demanded that they be allowed to use cell phones, that food quality at the cafeterias be improved, and that a satellite dish be installed so they can watch TV programs from their home country.
They also wanted the company to reshuffle managers who have allegedly been rough with the workers, including beating up some of their co-workers.
Another disgruntlement of the workers was that they could not take back food and daily necessities that were not purchased at the dormitory store. They called the restriction a form of exploitation.
Expressing his concern, Premier Frank Hsieh appealed to relevant government agencies to be lenient with foreign laborers, saying that the country should extend greater hospitality to the foreign nationals who are here doing laborious jobs that many Taiwan citizens would rather not do.
Noting that efforts should be made to regularly protect the foreign laborers' basic human rights and interests, Hsieh said that it would be a "bad thing" if the laborers' dissatisfaction or indignation with their Taiwan managers intensified to become a full-blown riot.
The premier said he has already directed the CLA to look into the latest incident.
Kuo Fang-yu, director-general of the CLA's Employment and Vocational Training Administration, said that officials from the Kaohsiung Police Department, the Kaohsiung Bureau of Labor Affairs and the Thai liaison office in Taiwan have begun investigating the incident.
Acting Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chi-mai expressed concern about the incident, urging all related parties to step forward to resolve the management-labor controversy as soon as possible.
Chen also called for the Thai workers' brokerage firm to mediate so that the laborers can resume their work to prevent the MRT project from being disrupted.
The Thai officials and Huapan executives, together with representatives from the local police precinct and the District Attorney's Office, held a meeting in the afternoon at the Cultural Bureau of Kaohsiung County, seeking to work out solutions to the problems.
The manpower management company eventually agreed to 14 of the 16 demands from the foreign laborers, who agreed to resume working today and allowed sanitation workers to enter the dormitory to clean up the debris from the riot.