The Invisible Workforce: LGBT Migrant Factory Workers in Taiwan


written by Robert Owen Ganado

Over the years, Taiwan has emerged as a beacon of progress in Asia, especially concerning LGBT rights. As the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage in 2019, Taiwan's legal landscape presents a unique backdrop for examining the intersection of labor rights and gender diversity. Despite these advancements, migrant LGBT factory workers often navigate a complex terrain marked by both progressive legal frameworks, entrenched societal norms, as well as significant gaps in labor protections.

Legal Protections and Gaps

Taiwan's legal framework provides several protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This is established primarily through the Gender Equality in Employment Act, which aims to eliminate gender discrimination and promote gender equality, and the Employment Service Act (2009), which prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

However, these acts fall short in explicitly covering all aspects of workplace discrimination that LGBT workers might face. The Labor Standards Act (LSA), Taiwan's primary labor law, does not specifically include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected categories. This omission leaves a significant gap in legal protections. While the Employment Service Act and the Gender Equality in Employment Act provide some level of protection, they do not comprehensively address all forms of discrimination in the workplace. For instance, the LSA governs fundamental labor rights such as working hours, wages, and working conditions, but without explicit anti-discrimination clauses related to sexual orientation and gender identity, LGBT workers remain vulnerable.

Moreover, the lack of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law in Taiwan means that protections against discrimination in various areas of life, including employment, housing, and healthcare, are not as robust as they could be. Such a law is long overdue and would penalize discrimination based on gender, nationality, sexual orientation, and other grounds, translating international legal commitments to equality into actionable and enforceable rights under national law. Without this broader framework, discrimination persists across multiple domains, leaving significant gaps in protection for LGBT individuals, especially migrant workers.

Challenges Faced by LGBT Migrant Factory Workers

Workplace Discrimination and Harassment

LGBT factory workers frequently report experiences of discrimination and harassment. A survey by the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association highlighted that nearly 60% of LGBT respondents faced some form of workplace discrimination or harassment. While most respondents were aware that the existing Employment Service Act and the Act of Gender Equality in Employment protect individuals from unequal treatment based on sexual orientation and gender expression, 30% were unsure about the grievance mechanisms available in their companies, and almost a quarter did not trust existing channels.  When hostile incidents occurred, nearly 60% of the respondents felt that their issues were unresolved. Such hostile environments can lead to psychological stress, reduced productivity, and high turnover rates. This is particularly challenging for migrant workers who often face additional layers of discrimination based on their nationality, exacerbating their sense of vulnerability and isolation.

Lack of Awareness and Sensitivity Training

Many factories lack comprehensive policies or sensitivity training to address LGBT issues. This absence perpetuates ignorance and bias among workers and management, creating an unsafe and unwelcoming atmosphere for LGBT employees. "The lack of sensitivity training and awareness in many factories leaves LGBT workers feeling isolated and vulnerable," says Luke, the Vice Chairperson of the Factory Workers Association in Taiwan (FWAT), a lesbian non-binary individual working for a big semiconductor factory in Taiwan.

"I have never had any type of sensitivity training within my factory, and this is not an isolated case as I have never heard of any such training in other factories as well. We need policies that ensure a safe and inclusive environment for everyone."

Limited Access to Support Networks

LGBT migrant factory workers often struggle to find supportive networks within their workplaces. Union participation, which can be a critical support mechanism, is frequently low among LGBT and migrant workers due to fear of discrimination. 

Many workers are afraid that employers and brokers might discover their union status, which could lead to blacklisting when renewing contracts or transferring to other companies. Carly, a migrant union officer from a tech company in Taiwan, shares,

"It was really difficult at first to form a union because of the fear of retaliation. Many were scared that joining a union would jeopardize their jobs.".

Health and Wellbeing

Access to healthcare is a significant issue. Transgender workers may find it difficult to access hormone treatments or other gender-affirming care. Mental health support is also lacking, with many LGBT migrant workers experiencing stress, anxiety, and depression due to isolation and discrimination.

For HIV-related care, while migrant workers can visit hospitals for testing, use the consultation hotline (0800-001922), or access the HIV anonymous consultation website for precise, private, and cost-free testing, many still face challenges. Migrant workers with HIV struggle with the high costs of treatment and are often excluded from access to HIV-related medications. According to Taiwan's Centers for Disease Control, migrant workers do not have the same access to public health insurance as local citizens, which limits their ability to obtain necessary medical treatments, including those for HIV. The total cost of HIV treatment is approximately 200,000 NTD annually, which breaks down to around 16,667 NTD per month (Taiwan Centers for Disease Control, 2023).

Currently, the monthly minimum wage for migrant workers as of 2024 is just 27,410 NTD. After multiple deductions including dorm fees, broker fees, and other expenses, migrant workers typically take home around 20,000 NTD. This income is usually insufficient to cover the high costs of healthcare and medication, exacerbating health disparities and leaving many LGBT migrant workers without the care they need to maintain their health. As a result, many are forced to return to their home countries due to the financial burden of healthcare costs.


Economic Exploitation

Migrant workers typically earn the minimum wage, which, as of 2024, is 27,410 NTD per month. For instance, broker fees can range from 1,500 to 1,800 NTD per month, while dormitory fees can take another significant portion of their salary. These deductions leave workers with a meager amount to cover daily expenses, leading to a precarious financial situation. After deductions for dormitory fees, broker fees, and other expenses, they often take home around 20,000 NTD. This income is insufficient for many workers, especially considering the high cost of living in Taiwan and their financial responsibilities towards their families back home. 

Debt Bondage

The financial vulnerability of migrant workers often starts even before they arrive in Taiwan. Many incur substantial debts to pay for recruitment fees, travel expenses, and other costs associated with securing employment abroad. This debt bondage makes it extremely difficult for workers to leave abusive or exploitative work situations, as they feel compelled to stay and repay their debts. The situation is particularly dire for LGBT workers who, in addition to economic exploitation, face the constant threat of discrimination and harassment.

"The debt bondage faced by many migrant workers creates a situation where leaving an abusive or exploitative employer is not an option," says Luke from the Factory Workers Association in Taiwan (FWAT), an organization led by migrant workers. "This is even more challenging for LGBT workers who already face multiple layers of discrimination."


Working Conditions

Long working hours and unsafe working conditions are common in many factories employing migrant workers. These workers often have little control over their work schedules and may be required to work overtime without adequate compensation. The physical and mental toll of such conditions is exacerbated for LGBT workers, who may also face hostility and exclusion from their peers and supervisors. 

The combination of fatigue, exhaustion, and mental health problems is particularly prevalent among migrant workers. Extended work hours without adequate rest lead to chronic fatigue, reducing overall productivity and increasing the risk of workplace accidents. The stress and strain from long hours can also result in severe mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. Social isolation and constant discrimination are compounding factors that make it even more challenging for workers to maintain their well-being. These health issues further entrench the cycle of exploitation. Workers who are physically or mentally unwell are less able to perform their jobs effectively, leading to reduced income and increased vulnerability to further exploitation. This can trap them in a cycle where poor health leads to poor work performance, leading to more exploitation and worsening health.

Social Isolation

The social isolation of LGBT migrant workers compounds their economic and workplace struggles. Language barriers and cultural differences can make it difficult for these workers to find supportive communities. LGBT individuals may feel particularly isolated if they fear coming out or being outed in their workplaces or living environments. This isolation can lead to severe mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, making it even harder for them to navigate and challenge their exploitative conditions.

Legal and Institutional Barriers

Although Taiwan has laws that protect against discrimination, there is no comprehensive anti-discrimination law yet. The Labor Standards Act (LSA) does not explicitly include protections for sexual orientation or gender identity, leaving LGBT workers vulnerable. Furthermore, access to legal or procedural resources is often guarded by employers, making it difficult for workers to seek help. The high costs associated with legal fees further deter workers from pursuing justice. Additionally, time is a precious resource for migrant workers who often work long hours with extremely limited personal time, making it challenging to address legal issues or seek support.

Intersectionality of Struggles

The intersection of gender struggle and class struggle is particularly pronounced for LGBT migrant workers. Their experiences of discrimination are multifaceted, stemming from their gender identity, sexual orientation, and migrant status. This intersectionality means that their liberation cannot be achieved in isolation; it requires addressing the broader systemic issues of labor exploitation, economic inequality, and social discrimination.

Systemic Change

To address these challenges, Taiwan must improve labor conditions for all workers, including migrant and LGBT workers. This includes stronger enforcement of existing laws, comprehensive reforms to the Labor Standards Act to explicitly include protections for LGBT workers, and policies that ensure fair wages and safe working conditions for all workers. Additionally, the establishment of more robust support networks and advocacy groups can help empower LGBT migrant workers to assert their rights and challenge exploitative practices. \

Advocacy and Support

Serve the People Association (SPA) is an NGO that advocates for migrant rights and welfare. They offer shelter, legal services, and help in forming unions led by migrants across the country to better protect and promote the rights of migrant workers. Importantly, SPA also has some LGBT workers as researchers, social workers, and staff, ensuring a deeper understanding of the struggles of LGBT migrant workers and effectively addressing their specific needs.

Migrante Taiwan is a grassroots organization of Filipino migrant workers from all sectors, while FWAT is a grassroots association of migrant factory workers in Taiwan. These organizations are at the forefront of advocating for the rights of migrant workers, including LGBT individuals. These groups offer legal assistance, counseling, and safe spaces for LGBT migrant workers to connect and share their experiences. They work tirelessly to address both labor and gender issues, recognizing that true progress can only be made by tackling these intersecting oppressions.

It is crucial that organizations and unions advocating for migrant workers are led by migrants themselves. This ensures that the demands and needs of migrant workers are prioritized over those of their employers or exploiters. Migrant workers have firsthand experience of the challenges and injustices they face, making them the most qualified to voice their needs and advocate for their rights. The role of the law should be to support these demands and needs as articulated by migrant workers, not to impose what Taiwanese legislators and employers think migrant workers need. Only migrant workers truly understand their own needs, and their leadership in advocacy groups is essential for effective change.


While Taiwan has made significant strides in LGBT rights, the intersectional challenges faced by LGBT migrant factory workers require more attention and action. Strengthening the enforcement of existing labor laws, increasing awareness of rights, and providing targeted support for LGBT migrant workers are essential steps toward ensuring that Taiwan's progressive image translates into real-world protections for all its workers. Moreover, recognizing that gender struggle is also a class struggle is crucial. True liberation for the LGBT community cannot be achieved unless all workers, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, are freed from systemic labor problems.

It is imperative that Taiwan's government takes immediate action to pass a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. This long overdue legislation would penalize discrimination based on gender, nationality, sexual orientation, and other grounds. Such a law would translate international commitments to equality into actionable and enforceable rights within Taiwan. In the absence of such frameworks, discrimination will persist, undermining Taiwan’s progress and its commitment to human rights for all.

This International Pride Month, if we are to advocate for queer liberation, we must also advocate for the liberation of LGBT migrant workers from exploitation and discrimination. Our struggles are inherently interconnected. Just as we fight for the rights and recognition of LGBT individuals, we must also stand in solidarity with migrant workers, ensuring that no one is left behind in the fight for equality and justice.