“I told the manager that the machine was overloaded, but he said it was fine. It exploded, and I was blown away by the blast. I didn’t even notice how badly my head was bleeding,” said Risfun, wringing his hands.
HARSH LIVING CONDITIONS
Risfun is a shy 27 year old man from Indonesia. He’s a talented singer and once performed in restaurants, but the money wasn’t enough to keep his family afloat. As the oldest son in the family, he came to Taiwan alone for better opportunities as a factory worker. Unbeknownst to him, he was sent to work as a farmhand, without any way to change jobs. When he objected, he was threatened with deportation, loss of wages, and no way to pay back the 170,000NTD debt to the labor agency.
The second time around, Risfun still had high hopes for his future, but the dark, cramped dormitories for the migrant workers meant that they were living 16 people in an 8 ping (about 26 square meters) basement room. They were forced to pay 2,500NTD for the right to live in these conditions. Their manager also had nicknames for all the workers. Risfun became 小機掰, while his friend became 大機掰. These are considered very rude, indecent words in the Taiwanese language, and for some reason the manager decided it would be fun to do this to people, who are hard workers and just want a better life, who already have names of their own and deserve to be treated like human beings.
In the beginning, Risfun thought that he would be in charge of packaging, which was also what the agency had told him; however, when he arrived, he was made to operate heavy machinery. There was no training session, no safety guide, just another migrant worker to tell him where the power switch was and some other basic instructions. Most work-related injuries brought to our attention happened because of a lack of training and information, and some incidences end up cause irreversible damage or even death just because the managers couldn’t be bothered to spare some time and money.
When the machine exploded from overloading, Risfun was aware of the danger, but was instructed to carry on anyway. “My mind was completely blank, all I knew was that I had been thrown a distance, and my head was hurting.” He ended up needing 14 stitches in his head, and was told to take three days of bed rest and observation in the hospital. His manager refused, making him go back to work on the second day, while his wounds were still open. He wasn’t given any reparations or even apologies, and no one accompanied him to follow-up doctor’s visits. He had to ride his bicycle alone to the hospital, and he couldn’t even tell his family for fear they would worry.
When we started working on Risfun’s case, he harbored no resentment towards his employers or agency, nor did he have any anger. We helped him arrange negotiations, accompanied him to the doctor, and find new employers. Though his scars are a permanent reminder of the abuse he has suffered, he still believes in the kindness of Taiwan.
While living at our sanctuary, Risfun would play the guitar and sing Indonesian songs, and live like a person. Our associate Lina says that “migrant workers aren’t labor machines, and they should be treated and protected as such.” Few employers bother with training because of the language barrier, and the migrant workers can’t read instruction manuals on their own either. Typically they’re dependent on rudimentary on-the-job training from more experienced workers, which often leads to horrifying accidents. We believe that many of these incidents are completely avoidable, and the workers don’t need to sacrifice themselves for want of instruction. We also believe that there are also decent employers out there who watch out for their workers and are dedicated to protecting them.