Red Brick Daily / Editorial

“I pay her more than she could ever make at home … she’s like one of the family.”

“We need them, they need us … it’s a win-win … what’s the problem?”

“I make sure our caregiver gets AT LEAST one day off a month.”

Sure … all those things might be true, but they don’t take away from the fact that Taiwan has a problem: workers from South East Asia are all-too-often not treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.

As ‘white collar expats,’ we are privileged … there’s no two ways about it.

Yes, some of us experience racism or difficulties associated with being “different” … but for the most part, if you’re a white collar worker (that includes English teachers) AND if you happen to be a light-skinned national of the U.S., UK, Canada or other western nation … you are in a privileged class in Taiwan.

In most cases, we make more money that locals in a similar position. We are often fawned over … let’s admit it: white-collar foreigners are “special“.

We stipulate that life isn’t fair: A Canadian expat English teacher might be “privileged” here … but of course, a Canadian stockbroker here would be even more privileged.

Instead of looking at it through the lens of “comparing,” however, why not accept whatever privilege we have with grace and humility … while using our privilege to fight for the group that gets dumped on more than nearly anyone in Taiwan: migrant workers … which is to say, “people from Southeast Asia working in Taiwan for a very minimum wage.”

Earlier this week a man was filmed on camera calling a Subway worker, “filthier than a wai lao” — or foreign laborer. He wasn’t talking about an English teacher.


Racism toward people from Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and other SE Asian nations is rife … and let’s not beat around any bushes: it’s because of both their nationality AND their skin tone.

As we read about improvements the government wants to implement to make life in Taiwan easier for expats and their families, bear in mind these changes will mean VERY little to hundreds of thousands of factory workers, domestic helpers, caregivers and other SE Asian migrant workers in Taiwan.

Luckily, some changes are happening.

Migrant workers in Taiwan can now be re-hired without having to leave the country every three years … after a new law passed last Friday.

The new rules should help migrant workers save between NT$75,000 and NT$180,000 in brokerage and other fees … but it’s not enough.

First, we need more changes to laws that don’t go far enough to protect these vulnerable individuals.

Second, we need some introspection: why is there this level of animosity toward people who are doing jobs no Taiwanese wants to do, such as caring for the sick and/or elderly?

Why are people who gave up everything to come to Taiwan and make money for their loved ones thought of by too many as “lazy” or even worse, “dirty”?

Systemic racism is an issue everywhere, but this blatant “in your face” racism is strange for Taiwan.

We are an open island … colonized by the west and Japan, home to a variety of ethnic groups and mostly free of Chinese nationalism the likes of what we see in China.

But it seems we just aren’t very nice to ‘wai laos’.

Things we have seen and heard with our own eyes and ears include:

-brokers charging 30% more than they should for a ticket home to Indonesia

-a rich local woman telling her maid not to leave the compound on the weekend as she fears the maid will get pregnant

-a taxi driver telling us he won’t pick up “dark skinned” Asians cuz they stink

-a woman complaining that her caregiver wants ALL of Sunday off … etc.

Changes to the Employment Service Act are a good first step … but let’s keep going.

Government data shows that 603,109 foreigners were employed as construction workers, factory workers, domestic helpers or in other manual jobs in Taiwan as of July 2016.

Over half a million migrant workers help keep this island running —and are too often treated like crap.

We ‘white collar expats’ can and should help lead the way to a fairer system for all “wai guo ren.”


(Photos via VOA/ International Domestic Workers Federation)