A Kuya

Arturo. - Photo: Joan YapArturo. - Photo: Joan Yap

"Continue the dream for the family despite what happened in my life. Even though I lost one hand, I still have another one. I won't give up. Just keep fighting. I believe in God. He won't forsake us. Let's continue to trust in God and in ourselves that we can overcome all the challenges in life." These are the words of Arturo, a migrant worker in Taiwan who dreams of providing a better life for his family even after experiencing a major occupational accident. I would like to share his story of how he is selflessly fighting his case and inspiring others.

Arturo worked in a Taiwanese family business with only thirteen employees, comprising four locals and nine Filipinos. It was overwhelming for him as it was his first time working with big machines, and he found the work hard. He had a 12-hour work shift each day, with one day off a week. All the Filipino migrant workers, including Arturo, lived in the basement of the factory. It was a small place with no bathroom or windows, where nine people shared a room. It was difficult for them to sleep because of the unpleasant smell of aluminium, as well as the oil and dark smoke that seeped into their room. They usually managed to sleep for only four to five hours. It was unsafe because the building lacked fire safety protection, and their room would flood during heavy rains.

One fateful night, while trying to fix a machine, Arturo’s right hand got caught in it. He was rushed to the hospital where he had surgery to amputate the hand the next day. After a month and a half, he was asked to return to work even though he was not fully recovered.

Arturo sought help from the Hope Workers’ Centre (founded by the Columbans in the 1980s) and filed a complaint against his employer for the following reasons: unsafe working environment, hazardous machinery, long working hours, and hazardous living conditions. He demanded justice and that his company be investigated, hoping to receive full compensation.

The district court ruling favoured Arturo, ordering the company to pay him for his injury caused by faulty equipment. Unfortunately, his employer declared bankruptcy, so Arturo couldn’t pursue the company to receive financial compensation. Also, the company appealed the ruling to a higher court, so Arturo has had to extend his stay for another three years. Arturo says this fight is not just for him but for all those who have suffered due to company negligence. There were times when he wanted to give up, especially during the pandemic when he was unemployed and far from his loved ones. Yet, he chose to stay in Taiwan to finish the case. Four other migrant workers had previously experienced the same type of accident, resulting in finger amputations, but they had returned home without pursuing a case. He hopes his story will encourage factories to prioritise worker safety.

Arturo has found a home in a shelter where he has become a “kuya” or big brother to everyone. He helps with activities and uses his experience to advocate for fellow migrant workers in similar situations. He shared his story with NGOs and the government. While he has not received the financial compensation he deserves, the journey itself and the relationships with the people who have become friends and family mean more to him. Arturo’s message to all migrant workers is clear: use your voice to fight against injustice and be courageous in the face of challenges as you fight for your rights. Your life can serve as an inspiration to others, as true justice is ultimately in the hands of God.

Columban lay missionary Joan Yap lives and works in Taiwan.

Listen to "A Kuya"

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