Cablegate: Thai Workers Cause Riot in Southern Taiwan

Published: Tue 23 Aug 2005 10:53 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Thai Workers Cause Riot in Southern Taiwan
1. Summary. A riot erupted when Thai laborers were angered
by their Taiwanese employers late Sunday night on August 21,
2005. The disruption was instigated by Taiwanese employers'
application of stringent regulations on the Thai workers.
Executives of the Huapan Manpower Consultant and Management
Co., Thai officials, local police, and local district
prosecutors worked together to quickly resolve the
situation. Taiwan's Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) decided
to transfer 800 Thai laborers who been catalysts of the riot
to work at other construction sites. Applications to
receive 971 additional Thai laborers, submitted by the
employer, Kaohsiung Rapid Transportation Corporation (KRTC),
will be turned down. The consultant firm may be fined for
mistreating foreign workers. The CLA stated the riot will
not affect the labor cooperation between Taiwan and
Thailand. End Summary.
2. A riot erupted in Kaohsiung County, southern Taiwan, on
August 21, 2005 when more than 1,700 Thai workers set fire
to their living quarters and cars, and hurled rocks at
police and firefighters who arrived to ease the situation.
The workers had been hired to complete the construction of
the mass rapid transit railway, which will connect Kaohsiung
City to Kaohsiung County and to Pingtung County. The
project is expected to be completed by October 2007. The
laborers, who had long been angry at strict working rules,
were further angered when their Taiwanese employers
prohibited them from bringing alcohol to their worksite.
3. The workers set fire to their dormitory, cars, and
hurled rocks at officials who arrived to control the scene.
No injuries were reported, but it is estimated that the
damage to the dormitory will cost Huapan Co. USD300,000.
Soon after word of the incident spread, officials
congregated to discuss the situation. Negotiations took
place and Taiwan employers agreed to ease restrictions on
drinking and the use of mobile phones and the workers were
granted permission to watch Thai TV.
4. KRTC was frustrated at the violence that occurred.
According to KRTC executive Chang Hsiu-chi, KRTC currently
has 7,600 local laborers and 1,728 Thai workers hired for
the city's mass rapid transit railway. According to Chang,
the Thai workers are more willing to work overtime. A hard-
working Thai laborer normally can earn up to USD 1100/month
(the basic payment of USD500/month plus overtime payment),
which is as much as a domestic worker can earn. Chang noted
the Thai workers who stirred up the trouble apparently were
upset by their treatment in general: inadequate living
space, strict living rules, etc. According to Chang, the
1,728 Thai workers are living in four 650-square meter
dormitories at Gangshan, Kaohsiung County. Thai workers
also complained that they were not compensated for overtime
hours, which is a report that KRTC denies.
5. Both KRTC and Huapan face punishment in the forms of
fines for their mistreatment of workers. The CLA has
requested the transfer of 800 Thai workers who were involved
in the riots to work at other infrastructure projects.
KRTC's application for 971 additional Thai laborers also
will be rejected. Huapan Co. may be fined between USD 1,900
and USD 9,500 for mistreating the laborers. KRTC executives
are worrying that the halt of hiring foreign laborers may
increase costs of the project by 50 percent and may cause
delays in completion of the project as well.
6. The Project: Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit System (KMRT)
called for construction of two (orange and red) lines
totaling 42.7 km and 37 stations. The system is designed to
connect Kaohsiung City and the neighboring Kaohsiung County
and Pingtung County. The US$5.6 billion project, under
construction since October 2001, is scheduled for completion
in October 2007.
7. Information contained here came exclusively from KRTC
and the Huapan Manpower Consultant and Management Co.
Neither laborers' representatives nor Thai officials were
available for contact. AIT/K will follow up with Thai
officials and labor representatives and report by septel.
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