Sunday, March 8, 2015

Taiwan To Import Domestic Workers from Vietnam -- $7000 per Person

It is important when discussing the issue of slavery in modern times that we not focus on a particular ethnicity or nationality, such as people from Haiti, or on a particular use to which modern slaves are put, such as sex workers. If we do that, we sensationalize the problem and also reduce its significance. There is a market for people. All kinds of people, who can perform all kinds of jobs. At the same time as modern day first world countries are limiting the domestic market by setting minimum wages, working conditions and basic health care packages for their own citizens, there is a hunger in each of these countries for people to work at less than minimum wage performing jobs that need to be done, but nobody has enough money to pay for them in a market that is constricted by artificial demands set by law.

One of the biggest problems that first world countries are facing now and in the foreseeable future is that we have a glut of elderly people in need of domestic caretakers. High tech countries have low birth rates, and while this may seemingly make the standard of living of the average person higher than in those countries with a high birth rate, because people with fewer children are not burdened with many dependents, in the long run this leaves many elderly people with no one able to care for them in their dotage.

Not all elderly are wealthy, and despite all the social safety networks in place, many need help that they are not able to get without resorting to hiring an imported domestic worker who will accept reduced wages and working conditions. In Taiwan and in Israel, it is not unusual for elderly people to be cared for by workers imported from poorer countries for the specific purpose of becoming temporary "domestic caretakers". Notice that I am using the modern euphemism for what used to be unabashedly called "a servant." Servants and slaves have not gone away, but we distance ourselves from the concepts, by giving them new names.

Vietnamese workers in Taipei

The difference between an ordinary servant and a slave is whether the service is voluntary. But how voluntary it is can be better gauged by how many runaways you have than whether there is an employment contract in hand. In Taiwan, according to the article linked below, there is a runaway problem with people imported from Vietnam,

Due to the loss of workers form Indonesia, Taiwan is considering lifting a ban on Vietnamese domestic workers, a ban that was initiated due to the high rate of "absconding" that was associated with Vietnamese workers, Why was there such a high rate of absconding?

Without reforms to guarantee vacation rights and adequate wages, absconding would likely remain common among migrant workers, Wu said, adding that brokerage fees for Vietnamese workers in Taiwan cost up to US$7,000 per person — the most expensive among all migrant worker-providing countries.
If we read between the lines and break through the doublespeak, here is the picture I get: People from Vietnam were being sold into the labor market in Taiwan at $7,000.00 a person. The "brokerage fee" went to someone in Vietnam, not to the worker himself. This is very similar to the indentured servitude model that we used to have here in the United States since Colonial times. Workers who  abscond are runaways. Today, the slave masters in Hanoy are offering to punish runaways more severely, and this makes the purchasers in Taiwan feel that perhaps the laborers they are planning on purchasing in the future will be more reliable.

People in Taiwan could try to solve this problem by passing more laws to protect indentured servants. Or they could do away with the thing that created this market for imported workers in the first place: the guarantees mandated by law for a minimum wage and benefits for domestic workers who are truly domestic.

A woman I saw on the streets of Taichung in 1998

There are poor people in Taiwan. I have seen them with my own eyes. But they never get these caretaking jobs, because the jobs go to people who have fewer guaranteed rights as to exactly what working conditions and salary and benefits they will have.


  1. I see the elderly not having people to take care of them part of a bigger problem with selfishness. Today people want to be so autonomous in every aspect of their lives, that extended family does not seem to be valued as much any more. I know one woman who was born in an Asian nation, and she wanted her mom to live with her new husband after they got married. Her fiancé was from the same country, but he was more Americanized, and viewed his mother living with them as an imposition. The relationship did not work out in the end, but I could understand why she wanted her mom to be with her. I have always been close to my family, and I live nearby because I want to be. I could never imagine putting my parents in a rest home, or hiring someone to take care of them, and would rather do this myself. I know not all families can do that, but I have seen people who fork their parents off to caretakers because they want to have free time. These are people who have large enough houses where their parents could live with them, and the economic means to look after their family. However, these same people want to go on vacations, do their own thing, but then complain about how the rest home is looking after their parents. I never understood why you would not want to be involved with care of your elderly parents, and then complain about how others might do it. I think this whole "people wanting to have their own family" and insisting that kids become completely autonomous at eighteen is part of the problem. Elderly people are not respecting these days. Culture is all about catering to looking younger, doing your own thing, and it seems the older generation is often forgotten. I am not saying all people are this way, but it is definitely a cultural shift that has taken place over the decades. I still know American families who would never put their parents in a rest home. This is a topic I am very passionate about. I never understood how you could do that to your parents, especially when they raised you. However, it seems that since many people today are raise by parents who want their free time, kids to not interrupt their conversations when they are socializing with other adults, and insisting kids just do their own thing, maybe this is how society wants to be. Thus, I see the elderly not being taken care of as not just about laws regarding minimum wage and what not, I see it as a larger symptom of everyone wanting to do what they want to do, and not really caring about others. Sure people are free to do this, but I really do not consider freedom being selfish at the expense of your parents. I guess my way of thinking about this is more in line with some traditional Asian people. I know one woman who has sacrificed her social life to take care of her parents. She even gave up her part time job when their mental acuity began to decline. If people want to take care of their parents they will, but many just seem more interested in their own lives, and are willing to hire someone else to do things.

    1. You do have a point, Julia, but I am not sure that Taiwan is the country to blame for neglecting parents. They actually have a very good attitude toward extended family, where older members of the family come and live with young couples and also help with care-taking of the children. In fact, when I worked in Taiwan as a professor, I was able to get my mother a resident visa, too, no questions asked. In the United States, it would not have been nearly as easy for a guest worker to do, but as my mother she had every right to come with me to Taiwan, because parents are considered our natural dependents by the Chinese people. When, however, my mother needed to go home, it was hard to find a nanny to replace her, and some Taiwanese suggested I hire someone from the Philippines, because they were easy to employ at a low rate of pay. However, as I was not a citizen of Taiwan, I could not employ another non-citizen, so that particular avenue, open to most people in Taiwan, was closed to me. I did meet the wife of a doctor, an elderly woman, who had employed a woman from the Philippines as her paid companion. So it was quite common, despite the great inter-generational family respect, for older Taiwanese to employ outsiders for domestic purposes. I think it is perfectly fine to do, if the person employed is happy with the arrangement, as that woman seemed to be. But there appears to be a real problem with workers from Vietbam, namely that they don't really want the arrangement and seem to be forced into it, so much so that they try to run away from the employer after they arrive in Taiwan.

    2. I meant to write "Vietnam" rather than "Vietbam." ;)

    3. My comment was more about America than Taiwan. Actually, in my comment I mentioned a friend I know who is more of a traditional Asian who wanted to have her mom live with them, and it was the Americanized boyfriend who freaked out about it. I think Americans might pretend to be in favor of minimum wage, but the truth is people who can afford it always hired under the table employees. There is more crack downs on it now, but when I was a kid it was no secret about building contractors who would go to one part of town to hire day workers that they did not pay much. I think now people are just getting in more trouble for it, so they always say we use e-verify. In my opinion a good employer will treat an employee well, and pay them enough to survive. I do not necessarily believe people who help out with family care need to be paid minimum wage, especially since many families informally babysit each others kids for free or much less. People think that child care needs to be licensed, but not everyone can afford to send their children to a child care facility. I can perfectly understand someone hiring an au pair or nanny that they pay the person what they can afford. As long as that person is making enough money to survive and freely decides to take on that role, that is fine.

    4. I agree with you, Julia. I think we are seeing it pretty much the same way. Your example about the traditional Asian wife and her Americanized husband is a good one.

      The problem that I was addressing here is with workers from Vietnam who are not only unhappy -- they seem to be being sold by a broker who collects most of the fee. This sounds like indentured servitude and is a genuine problem to be concerned about.

      I also think that we might not remember anymore that traditional, multi-generational families in the middle class used to also have servants. People haven't suddenly become much more self-centered: they are facing different socio-economic conditions. It is those people who do not want to put parents in a senior care institution, but who want to care for them at home who will want to hire others to help them in the home. As the parent's needs become greater, even when living with family, it becomes necessary to rely on someone to be there for them all the time, even when the children are out.

      It is the absence of servants in the home that makes it necessary to go looking specifically for "domestic caretakers". As we restructure society, thinking we are freeing more people from servitude, we actually end up with the same amount of servitude, just different names for it.

    5. In some ways I do see people as having become more self-centered when they send a parent away to a nursing facility, especially when they have the economic means to care for a parent. I have seen many elderly parents who do have nurses and live in assistants, and that is fine if it is just during the day when people are out and about at work.

      What I do believe is wrong is when people foist their parents onto others, when they could be doing more for parents. A lot of people openly talk about wanting to do this and that fun things for themselves, and the need for me time seems more important than ever. There was a time when people spent more time doing family things. I do not think all cultures devalue family time, by the way. Asian cultures seem to want to be more connected with family, and Hispanic cultures do as well. I am not trying to put down mainstream Americans, but there is this vibe where people talk about me time this, and me time that.

      This is also another subject altogether, but some people have children, and never spend any time with them. I know I am cover a lot of areas here, but sometimes it is just a bit puzzling why people have children if they really do not want to spend time with them. I understand having a career and all that, but when advancing your career, socializing, and vacations seem to take priority, and you only have one hour a day to spend with your kids, as some people complain about, I think the priorities are skewed. I just see these current generations as growing up to be more entitled, and less caring about others. It is always the me time parents who complain about the teenager who does not want to talk to them, but what did you expect when you priorities socializing with friends, and blatantly ignored your children's observations when they were little. I have had kids come up to me and tell me things, show me beautiful pictures, and their parents are not noticing all these moments. They are typing away on their phones, or talking to another adult.

      Okay, maybe people have not become more selfish all of a sudden, but it is interesting that people emphasis getting married and having kids, and balk when someone is single and not having children. A lot of people are making excuses to spend as little time with their kids as possible.

    6. Yes, I have observed people like that, too, who spend no time with their children, and it makes me wonder why they had them. But there's also this idea that women in particular should not have to give up more than men for the children, so there is this competition going on to see if they can keep the "sacrifices" equal. It's hard to slice a child in two for the sake of sexual equality, though.

      There is research that shows that children who are breastfed (or bottle fed) when hungry thrive and are more intelligent than those that are on a fixed schedule. But this same research shows that mothers thrive and are happier when the baby is on a fixed schedule. So the question is: what is more important? Happy mothers or happy babies? Because there is a demonstrable conflict of interest, and today's most liberated women won't give an inch.

      I do see some of the same things you are seeing, but I think first of all people need to get their priorities straight, which includes understanding that one person's liberation is another's enslavement in many of these situations, and we are not just smoothly making progress into a progressive utopia where everyone can have everything they want at the same time.

      When the nanny is liberated, the mother loses out. When the mother is liberated, the baby loses out. When the servants are let go, the elderly end up without help at home. It's not all about whose needs are greater, because everyone has needs.

    7. I think you can have sexual equality while keeping in mind most men are not going to be as involved with childcare as women tend to be. I am all for women having careers, but actually it is economically and sometimes developmentally unfair to a child when a woman puts her career above a child. If their is a household where the dad is spending time with the kids, I say sure that is fine. I think women should be allowed to have options, but I always thought having a child meant you put your own priorities on hold for awhile to invest in that child.

      I also think men are just as guilty in some ways. Today a lot of men do not want to get married, and want to stay single even after having kids. I tend to lean progressive, but I do not see this new family structure as a uptopia. There are problems then and now. Also, I was never a liberal who had a problem with someone hire people to clean their house. Even the most liberal Hollywood types do that, and people are delusional if they do not realize that. Honestly, do people really think all celebrities run their own Twitter and Instagram accounts? Some do, but those tend to be the ones who post stuff that make some of their fans upset because it does not conjeal with the idea of the persona they thought the person was. Most of the time there are many affluent people who hire others to do things for them. I have never had a problem with this, as long as said employees are treated well and not being abused. Being an intern that is paid nothing to do similar tasks is often worse than being assistant or house keeper for a wealthy person.

    8. Hi, Julia. Again, I agree with most of what you said. About ninety-nine percent of it. But it is not just about wealthy people hiring someone to clean house or run their twitter accounts. Today, it is only the wealthy who can afford this, and we have this stereotype that you have to be rich to have servants. But did you know that people of very modest means used to have servants, and that the very poor, instead of being on welfare, used to work for the lower middle class? People talk about the fifties now as this era of the American dream, with a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage and a washing machine in every house. But the washing machine replaced the maid in most middle class households, and when middle class women lost the maid, they lost a lot of freedom, because let's face it, a washing machine will never replace a real live person. It's just a machine. It doesn't fold clothes, it doesn't rock babies to sleep, and it doesn't dry tears. A real person is always better. That's when middle class mothers became housebound, and instead of being like Abigail Adams or Theodosia Burr, they were supposed to forget about higher learning, and to have a spotless kitchen, which they cleaned themselves using Mr. Clean. And then they were only ever able to liberate themselves by dumping the children in daycare. So it's a vicious cycle that started with the loss of the domestic servant after World War II, and everything we have been taught about making progress is not what it seems.

    9. Of course I knew people of more modest means hired servants. I studied history, and know quite a bit. I never said only wealthy people have helpers. Where did I say this? I was only writing a few examples, and realized I wrote some interesting stuff today. Why do people always think I do not know something. You do not have to agree with me either, it is fine. I think my view points are valid for me, not looking for validation or anything :). But I know what indentured servitude is. I never made a comment that people of less means did not hire servants, and people still do today. I know a few senior citizens who hire care takers, and they are not exactly affluent.

    10. I wasn't trying to imply you didn't know this, Julia, about the less than wealthy people hiring servants. (Or about indentured servitude, for that matter.) Sorry if it seemed that way. I was just trying to make my point clear about how liberating one group of people in turn enslaves another group, and there is a domino effect while things realign.

      My point was that it's a historical progression. That was my emphasis. I was hearkening back to this other post where I had statistics about how many servants per household there used to be from 1900 to 1940:

      I do think that not enough emphasis is given to this change. You can see even in a movie like Mary Poppins how Disney is chiding the fictional Mrs. Banks for not staying home with the kids, even though that is not how P.L. Travers saw it at all.

      One would think that with two parents working nowadays in most households, each household would have more resources than they did when one stayed at home and the other worked. But it did not actually turn out that way. Today two have to work just to make ends meet, and they can't afford servants. But once upon a time, one could work and the other could stay home with servants to help with the children. This progression robs everyone, except for the government. But most people do not talk about it because .... well, I don't know why, but they just don't. I want to talk about it. But that doesn't mean I meant to lecture you or imply that you didn't know it already.

      It's possible that like you they all know the entire history but are choosing to stay silent about and only complain about the rich getting richer.