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First migrant workers union formed in Taiwan

2013/05/25 22:20:24

Taipei, May 25 (CNA) A migrant workers union composed of 89 Filipino fishermen was founded Saturday in Taiwan's northeastern county of Yilan, becoming the first such union formed in the country, which employs nearly 88,000 workers from the Philippines.

The Yilan County Fishermen's Trade Union was formed with the aim of helping Philippine fishermen make their voices heard.

The union is the first association formed by foreign workers in Taiwan and has registered with the county government's labor affairs department, according to Lee Lee-huan, a Taiwanese human rights worker who helped the fishermen set up the organization.

At a ceremony held at the Suao Catholic Church to mark the launch of the fishermen's union, its leaders and members observed three-minutes of silence for 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman, Hung Shih-cheng, who was shot dead on May 9 by Philippine coast guard officers while fishing in waters where the two countries' exclusive economic zones overlap.

Lee, who spent 18 months helping the migrants set up the labor union, said that after Taiwan's Labor Union Act was amended on May 1, 2011, it allowed foreign labor unions to elect a board of directors and supervisers.

Previously, they were not allowed to organize their own labor unions, and were only permitted to join existing labor organizations.

There are approximately 6,600 foreign workers who work on Taiwan's fishing boats. Most of the migrant fishermen are Indonesians and Filipino. They represent 2 percent of the migrant workers in Taiwan.

Lee said that the union has elected its directors and leaders and that it plans to solicit fishermen from other countries to join the organization in the future.

Alfredo Cataluna, president of the union, who has worked for Taiwanese employers for eight years, said that he originally thought Taiwan would send Filipino workers back home after the shooting incident, but that was not the case.

Several members of the union said that they once worried the timing was too sensitive to set up the union, but fortunately, their Taiwanese employers have still treated them in a friendly way. They added that they hope the two countries will soon settle the dispute over the death of the Taiwanese fisherman.

They also said they hope their rights could be protected and a communication platform can be set up through the union to help solve problems plaguing them, including excessive work hours.

Taiwan's government has suspended the hiring of more migrant workers from the Philippines following the death of the fisherman. The government has demanded that the Philippine government investigate the shooting, punish the officers involved and compensate Hung's family, as well as hold talks on fishing rights, to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

(By Worthy Shen and Y.L. Kao)