Emily Gatchalian Ramirez worked at a textile factory in Taoyuan County, Taiwan, from 1999 until 2000. During that time, she attended mass regularly at the Hope Workers’ Center. Emily has written about her experience as a migrant worker in Taiwan as part of the documentary series, “The Migrant Worker’s Face.”

By Emily Gatchalian Ramirez
Edited by Hannes Zetzsche

Working at the Tachen Textile Company, in Taoyuan, produced one experience in 2000 that was particularly memorable.

Let me set the scene: 50 Filipina workers and I had been working 12 hours per day, seven days a week—even without holidays like Christmas and New Year—and we had only been paid regular wages without overtime. In that work, many of my coworkers suffered injuries from the machines they operated, and were left to pay their own medical expenses without continued income support during their periods of medical leave.

My coworkers and I were in this position and didn’t know better. We didn’t know our rights.

The situation reached a breaking point when one of my friends at work was injured on the job and recognized that the company was treating her unfairly by not providing health coverage during her leave. We didn’t know what her rights were in the situation, and so we asked the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) for help. We were assigned a caseworker by MECO. This caseworker visited our factory but did not follow up with further action.

It was then that a friend’s sister told us to go to the Hope Workers’ Center.

After a 12-hour shift at work from 7 P.M. to 7 A.M., we went to the Hope Workers’ Center and met with a caseworker, Santos Lim. He interviewed us about our case and we discussed what could be done. Mr. Lim encouraged us to file a case against Tachen Textile Company, offering that we could do so confidentially, so that the company wouldn’t have the opportunity to find out and retaliate. We encouraged other coworkers to join our fight against the labor conditions we continued to face, but, fearful of retaliation by our employers, they demurred. The companies threatened us that unless we withdrew our cases against them, they would terminate our contracts and send us home to the Philippines. Only two of us opted to fight for our rights, and Mr. Lim stood by us.

Fighting the company for our rights was not easy for my friend and me. The company watched us closely, waiting for a mistake that would justify termination of our contracts.

This process of waiting continued until the day that we ran away from the company.

Conditions at work had worsened to such a point that we ran away from work one morning around 5 A.M., and went directly to the Hope Workers’ Center. Because the office had not yet opened for the morning, we waited at the church next door until our caseworker arrived.

The Hope Workers’ Center took us in, and we stayed in their shelter for almost a month, free of charge.

I remember meeting Father James, an Irish priest. He encouraged us not to give up our case, to persevere. Our caseworker, Mr. Lim, never gave up either, and we met with him every Sunday.

I remember one day while we were staying at the Hope Workers’ Center, the police came and tried to arrest us to take us back to the Philippines. Mr. Lim came to our defense and told the police that they didn’t have the right to arrest us, because their jurisdiction extended only to New Taipei County and not to Taoyuan. The police relented for the time being, and we were scheduled a court appearance in Taoyuan, with Mr. Lim supporting us.

It was there for the first time that we faced our previous broker and employer since having run away. They were seeking our deportation.

We are grateful to God for the support we received in court that day. Mr. Lim, Father James and the director of the Hope Workers’ Center at the time, Father Peter O’Neil, a Columban priest, each came to court in support of us and won the case on our behalf. Thanks to the help of them, we were able to answer the questions in the briefings.

We won the right to stay and work in Taiwan, and the right to recover our lost wages at Tachen Textile Company. The result of the case even helped the other workers at the factory to regain their lost wages as well, and many of them filed cases that allowed them to receive proper amounts for holiday and overtime hours that they should have received over their working histories. We are all thankful to the Hope Workers’ Center for their help, especially people like Father O’Neil for his help to the migrants in Taiwan. Thank you for an unforgettable experience.

To all the migrants facing this kind of situation, be sure that you have the complete evidence against the company and be sure that you trust the person handling your case. Remember, prayer is the best weapon.

May God bless you all and, once again, thank you Hope Workers’ Center.

This reflection by Emily Gatchalian Ramirez has been produced and published by the Hope Workers’ Center as an entry to “The Migrant Worker’s Face” documenting project. The Hope Workers’ Center continues to seek stories like Emily’s so that we can add detail to migrants’ intricate face. There are two ways that you can help us. If you are a migrant worker and would be willing to share your story, we want to hear from you directly! You can read instructions about how to participate here. If you are not a migrant worker, then we ask you to continue supporting our project: read our stories weekly and invite others to do the same.

The Hope Workers’ Center is dedicated to supporting migrant workers in our community. Through this project, we hope to appreciate the beauty of each person’s life while fostering recognition among a wider audience of the struggles that migrants regularly encounter in their work. Thank you for your support!