Taoyuan City Hall, Taiwan. Photo: Google Maps

A fire that claimed six lives and injured five Vietnamese workers in an allegedly illegal iron-sheet building in a company facility in mid-December has shone a spotlight on the poor living conditions faced by tens of thousands of migrant workers in Taoyuan in northwestern Taiwan.

The tragedy was just a tip of the iceberg, said Father Peter Nguyen Van Hung, of the Vietnamese Migrant Workers and Brides Office of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hsinchu, while he was showing pictures of hazardous workers’ hostels, United Daily News reported.

The rooms of the hostel where the fatal fire occurred were divided by plywood, while the back door on the second floor was locked by a security gate, making it impossible for the workers to escape the blaze.

The priest said it was not uncommon for workers to live in the midst of flammable materials such as organic solvents, fabrics and plastics. However, they did not complain about such unsafe living condition as they feared losing their jobs.

Lee Hsien-hsiang, deputy chief of the Taoyuan Department of Labor, said that for the past 10 years, inspectors have only been required to examine whether worker accommodations are up to standards in terms of meals and hygiene. Evaluating whether they are safe to live in, or are fire hazards, is not mandatory.

Last year the department conducted more than 16,000 on-site visits, but there were many waiting for inspection, as the department was short of manpower, Lee admitted, adding that he would pass the problems and difficulties on to the Taiwan Ministry of Labor.

Read: Six Vietnamese killed, five hurt in Taoyuan factory blaze