FEATURE/Migrant workers struggling to save as they look to the future
By William Yen, CNA staff reporter
Wakecot and Buang are two Indonesian fishermen who work long hours on different Taiwan-registered fishing vessels, hoping to improve their circumstances and the lives of their families back home.
Yet, after 10 years of catching fish and mending nets on Taiwan boats, Wakecot, now 37, has very little to show for it.
The bulk of his salary is usually sent home to support his wife and two children in West Java, Indonesia, and he tries to manage on the little that is left, he said.
Buang, also from West Java, tells a similar story, saying that he barely has enough left to buy cigarettes after he has remitted most of his pay to his wife and two children in the province's Cirebon City.
"I never learned how to save money because I am out at sea for most of the time and I have only one day off a week," said Buang, 31, who has been working in Taiwan for seven years. "And I usually do not venture out of the harbor when the boat comes in."
Indonesian fishermen in Taiwan reportedly earn between NT$21,100 (US$738) to NT$25,000, before deductions, and like many other migrant workers in the country, they find it difficult to save money.
One of the major problems among migrant fishermen is that they suffer from stress, working long rigorous hours at sea, often for weeks at time, according to Indonesian migrant rights activist Dwi Tantri.
"Can you imagine, after days or weeks of work out at sea, when they come back to port, some of them are required to help their employers sell fish in the market," said Tantri, 50, who has been working as a caregiver in Taiwan for nine years and sometimes helps take care of hospitalized migrant workers.
On their days off, some migrant fishermen would get together to drink, each chipping in NT$500 to buy the alcohol, according to 38-year-old Kasirin, who is from Banten in West Java.
"We do this to try to unwind and forget about everything for a while," Kasirin said.
This is the kind of lifestyle, however, that makes it difficult for many of the 700,000 migrant workers in Taiwan to realize their dreams of returning home with enough money to start their own small business or at least gain some financial security so they would not have to leave their families again to work overseas, according to Indonesian banker M. Zaky Faishal.
Zaky, a Taiwan-based representative from Bank Negara Indonesia (BNI), was recently invited by Tantri to talk to Indonesian fishermen about saving money.
At a gathering at Wanli Fishing Harbor in New Taipei, Zaky advised the fishermen to save 30 percent of their monthly salary in a proper bank account, send 15 percent home to their families, retain 40 percent for daily living costs, and set aside 15 percent for any emergencies that may arise.
"I explained to them that it is better to open a bank account to save money, instead of spending it all, because it will benefit them in the future after they finish their work in Taiwan," Zaky told CNA.
"We hope they can start their own businesses upon their return to Indonesia, and we try to motivate them by telling them that they can one day be small or medium-sized entrepreneurs," he said.
In the Filipino migrant community, similar advice is offered regularly by the Taipei Labor Center of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO).
For example, Dayang Dayang Sittie Kaushar G. Jaafar, deputy director of the center, has been visiting factory dormitories in Taiwan during the COVID-19 pandemic to hand out health kits and talk to Filipino workers about financial and family responsibilities.
"They should save every penny they can, if they have not yet started doing so," Jafaar said. "Current times are tough because of the pandemic, and many people are out of a job. Savings are very important."
With all the advice they have been receiving, some migrant workers are beginning to gain better awareness of the importance of saving.
Buang, for example, has been reflecting on his spending habits, since attending the financial training sessions given by Zaky.
"I hope we can learn how to save money so that we can take it back to Indonesia," he said. "That money can then be used to buy things such as boats, or small houses, rather than splurging on useless things like alcohol or cigarettes to have fun in Taiwan."
Kasirin, meanwhile, said he is trying to set some goals, starting with a plan to save NT$2,000 every month.
"At least, after the training, I have worked out that I can save some money, even though it may be no more than NT$2,000 a month," he said. "The rest of my salary will be used to buy daily necessities and to send home to Indonesia."
The aspiration among many migrant workers to return home and start their own business is not in the least unattainable, according to Filipino Allan D. Viray.
Viray, 33, who worked in a Taiwan factory for six years, returned to the Philippines in April, and four months later, he launched a business to import Taiwanese food products.
Since August, he has sold half a shipping container of Taiwan beverages -- 16,800 bottles -- to distributors and grocery stores on the Philippine island of Luzon, he said. Viray said he is now processing a new order for a full container of Taiwan products.
Alongside the food and beverage import business, he said, he is also about to open a vehicle rental company, starting with two vans, one sedan, and a jeepney, which he has already obtained.
He advised his compatriots to keep in mind the primary reason why they left the Philippines for Taiwan.
"Always focus on your goals and be productive, be kind and courteous for no reason at all, because I believe every person you meet may be a potential door opener," Viray said. "Attitude matters."
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