Systematic problems exposed by treatment of Filipino quake victim

2018/03/03 09:03:33 fontsize-small fontsize-default fontsize-big
Systematic problems exposed by treatment of Filipino quake victim

By Shih Hsiu-chuan, CNA staff reporter

A month has passed since a magnitude 6.0 earthquake struck Hualien and left 17 people dead, but Taiwan's Ministry of Labor has yet to deliver on its promise of compensation to the family of a Filipino victim, exposing flaws in the treatment of migrant workers in Taiwan.

Filipino caregiver Melody Albano Castro, who was taking care of a person with disabilities at the time, was killed in the earthquake of injuries sustained when the building she was in partially collapsed and tilted severely to one side.

Melody Albano Castro (right)

The ministry determined her death to be work-related and invoked the "Act for Protecting Worker of Occupational Accidents," which covers workers not enrolled by national labor insurance, to pledge NT$1.19 million (US$40,364) in compensation and aid to Castro's family.

Even with the law, getting the pledge for a migrant caregiver was not a sure thing, and labor rights activists applauded the ministry's decision to apply the Act to Castro's case.

But Gilda Banugan, chairperson of Migrante International's Taiwan Chapter, an organization fighting for the rights of Filipino migrant workers, said Taiwan's government may have pledged to offer compensation only because it was a very high profile case.

"If she died in different situations, maybe her family cannot claim the benefits," Banugan said, urging related laws to be revised to address the issue and to raise salaries for caregivers so they can afford insurance.

As with the vast majority of foreign caregivers, Castro was not covered by Taiwan's labor insurance program, which would have guaranteed the benefits for an occupational death rather than leaving them to the whims of government.

For other foreign caregivers injured in the earthquake, the consequences of not being in the labor insurance program compared with most other workers in Taiwan were more obvious.

That's because the Act for Protecting Worker of Occupational Accidents provides a payout only for work-related deaths or injuries that disable or incapacitate a worker.

In addition to death and disability benefits, the Labor Insurance Act also confers medical benefits, occupational illness compensation and benefits, and retirement pensions.

People with labor insurance who suffer an occupational injury or disease and see their salary discontinued or lowered because they are unable to work, for example, can collect 70 percent of their average daily salary registered with the labor insurance system for one year and 50 percent for a second year.

They also do not have to pay copayments for medical care during the time they are sidelined and can also claim benefits under the Disaster Prevention and Protection Act if the occupational injury or disease was sustained during a disaster, as was the case in Hualien.

But the Filipino workers in Hualien facing similar situations cannot claim any of those benefits because they were uninsured.

Teng Ming-pin (鄧明斌), head of the ministry's Department of Labor Insurance, said migrant caregivers face a further disadvantage.

For most workers in Taiwan, if insurance benefits are inadequate, they have another option -- they can seek further compensation from employers under the Labor Standards Act -- but migrant caregivers are not covered by that law either, he said.

Filipino caregiver Maricel Dadivas said it was very unfair that caregivers are excluded from labor insurance coverage.

"We have shouted at rallies for years that the government must address the laws unfair to us," Dadivas said. "We have duties nearly 24 hours a day. It's not easy. The government still has no action."

In Castro's case, being subject to the "Act for Protecting Worker of Occupational Accidents" has created another problem.

A provision in the law -- that compensation from employers or private insurance coverage shall be deducted from any amount paid by the government -- has even held up the NT$1.19 million payment promised to her family.

Castro's broker, Hsin-Chiu Co. (欣玖), which negotiated her terms of employment in Taiwan, has claimed that her employer took out a NT$500,000 insurance policy to cover Castro for accidental death.

The ministry has yet to see the policy, however, and cannot decide if the NT$500,000 in supposed insurance benefits should be deducted from the ministry's proposed payout, Hsu Li-ying (許莉瑩), a section chief at the ministry's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, told CNA Friday.

The Hualien County government disputes the broker's claim, with Social Affairs Department official Lu Kuo-hsing (呂國興) confirming to CNA on Tuesday that the agency has checked on the policy claimed by Castro's broker and found it was offered by a previous employer.

"We do not have the authority to require her broker to show us her policy, but we are certain that she was not eligible for any benefits because her former employer bore no responsibility with regard to her death," Lu said.

The confusion only highlights the general gap in insurance protection faced by foreign caregivers working in Taiwan.

The standard employment contract for Filipino caregivers, drawn up by Manila and agreed to by Taipei, requires employers to take out a minimum of NT$300,000 of private occupational insurance coverage for caregivers or enroll them in the labor insurance program.

In most cases, however, neither happens.

Teng said the percentage of caregivers enrolled in Taiwan's labor insurance program is extremely low because the Labor Insurance Act only requires employers with five or more employees to provide coverage.

As for private insurance, Banugan said terms of the standard contract are often not observed to begin with and even if caregivers were given private insurance by their first employer when signing a contract in the Philippines, they lose that when they transfer to another employer in Taiwan.

"About 90 to 95 percent of caregivers are uninsured," she estimated.

Liu Szu-jung (劉思龍), an attorney with the Jen-Song law firm familiar with labor laws, suggested that the ministry approve the hiring of a foreign caregiver by an employer only if proof of insurance is submitted.

Lennon Wong (汪英達), head of the Service Center and Shelter for Migrant Workers in the Serve the People Association in Taoyuan, argues that labor insurance is of particular importance for caregivers because they are vulnerable to ailments such as degenerative disc-related diseases from physical handling and caring of patients.

The government needs to look into how to help caregivers cope with occupational injuries and illness, an issue that it has long neglected, Wong said.

Now that the Hualien disaster and Castro's case have highlighted some of that neglect, the time may have arrived to make changes so that foreign caregivers are no longer second-class citizens in Taiwan when it comes to insurance protection.


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