Taipei Times explained why the Thai laborers rioted: "In Taiwan today, people are unwilling to accept labor-intensive, high-risk, dirty or low-wage work. The government has no option but to import foreign workers to relieve the labor shortage in these sectors. Unfortunately, regulations, society and employers' attitudes have not been adjusted to fit the new situation. Outdated laws, poor management, a slave-owner mentality and cultural differences have caused friction between employers and employees, sowing the seeds of unrest."  There is nothing special about Taiwan, as this type of situation happens for the migrant workers in China, the illegal mainland Chinese workers in Hong Kong, the foreign workers in Japan and the illegal alien workers in the United States.  However, it is a tribute to Taiwan that the media can get all over this immediately.

First, here are the photos of the conditions that led eventually to the Thai laborers' riot.  Whilst this looks very crowded, China Post says: "the Kangshan foreign workers' living quarters 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."  Please imagine if another 1,300 bodies are thrown as well.

(Taiwan Times)  Thai workers riot against 'unfair' firm.  August 23, 2005.

The riot began about 9:30pm Sunday at the five-story dormitory housing 1,700 Thai workers, who are building the Kaohsiung mass-transit system. The management company was hired by the Kaohsiung Mass Transit Bureau to manage the workers' living conditions.  "Some Thai workers clashed with management personnel, who tried to discipline the drunken workers who were shouting in the dorm. The management personnel stopped one Thai worker from using a cellphone and reportedly hit him with an electric prod," the Broadcasting Corporation of China (BCC) reported.

"The two incidents prompted the Thai workers to vent their pent-up anger at the management, so they rioted," it reported.  In addition to the bans on alcohol, cellphones and Thai television in the dormitory, the Thai workers were required to use tokens in the dorm store, but they allege they were short-changed when exchanging the script for real money, it added.  Of the 1,700 Thai workers in the five-story dorm, some 300 took part in the riot, setting fire to management offices and cars, burning clothes and hurling rocks at police who responded to the fire report.

Here are a couple of things that the government will do:

(1) Officials threatened the workers who took a stand against the company with deportation. Lai Chin-lin, vice chairman of Cabinet's Council of Labor Affairs, said workers found guilty of starting the riot will be deported for violating law and order.

(2) Lai said the council will also punish the employer, the Kaohsiung Mass Transit Bureau, for mismanagement by slashing by 800 the number of foreign workers the company is entitled to import to help it construct the transit system.

That will go a long way towards not solving any problems.


Self-reinforcing media effect

Let us took at the substantive issues in detail.  Apple Daily has a table for the 16 demands from the Thai laborers and the company's response.

  1. Subject: The management used violence and electric prods to punish the laborers.  Result: Any manager/administrator who used violence will be referred to law enforcement authorities for investigation.
  2. Subject: The allowance was either NT$3,000 or NT$5,000, and any amount over those thresholds is payable in tokens instead of cash.  Result: The token system will be scrapped and all payments will be in cash.  (eTaiwanNews) has more: "Many workers contended it was unreasonable for their Taiwanese supervisors to prevent them from taking food and daily commodities to the dorm, forcing them instead to buy these necessities at the company canteen using substitute currency provided by the company.  Some workers charged that they only received NT$0.80 to NT$0.85 in substitute money for every Taiwan dollar they earned in income.  The company also installed electronic gambling machines in the dorm that also would only accept the substitute currency."
  3. Subject: Overtime hours per month were 100, but the laborers were paid for only 46 hours, and anyone who questions this process is fired and sent home.  Result: All unpaid overtime will be paid in full.
  4. Subject: The transportation bus to the construction site is always arrives early at the dormitory and late at the site; if they return to the dormitory at 10pm, there is no meal except for instant noodles and there is no water or electricity.  Result: In the future, an extra NT$50 will be given if they get off work more than 2 hours later.
  5. Subject: Mobile telephone usage is limited subject to the threat of confiscation and a fine of NT$3,000.  Result: Mobile phone usage will be allowed and all confiscated phones and collected fines will be returned.
  6. Subject: The food is stale and lacks variety.  Result:  Improvement will be made immediately.
  7. Subject: Salary deductions are not explained.  Result: Itemization in Chinese and Thai languages will be attached.
  8. Subject: Recreation hours were four hours in the evening Monday-Friday; on holidays, they must be back in the dormitory by 8pm.  Result: On holidays, they must be back in teh dormitory by 9pm.
  9. Subject: No alcohol allowed inside the dormitory.  If they drink on the outside, the managers will destroy the alcohol.  Result: The company will not concede on this point.
  10. Subject: The dormitory is overcrowded (see photos at the top of the page).  Result: The company will construct another dormitory.
  11. Sujbect: The laborers want to watch Thai programs.  Result: The company will provide Thai movies and entertainment programs, but there will be no adult movies.
  12. Subject: Any managers or administrators who oppress or take advantage of the laborers must be removed.  Result: The company agrees to change certain front-line managers within the next two days.
  13. Subject: Any little mistake would result in immediate expulsion back to Thailand.  Result:  The company will not send anyone back except for serious violations of company regulations.
  14. Subject: In the event of accidents or illness, the company should pay for medical expenses.  Result: Individual illnesses should be covered by insurance.  Work-related accidents will be paid for by the contractor.
  15. Subject: The laborers demand the company to handle all past grievances.  Result: The company does not respond.
  16. Subject: The laborers are compelled to work on holidays for Kaohsiung Rapid Transit.  Result:  The company does not respond.