Students from a previous Chinese class. Photo: Labor Affairs Department of the New Taipei City government

Cultural confusion and language barriers often cloud relations between Taiwanese employers and their foreign migrant workers, according to the Labor Affairs Department of the New Taipei City government.

Liao Wu-hui, an official with the city’s Labor Affairs Department, cited an example as an illustration. A worried employer asked for advice when his newly-hired Indonesian domestic worker had not been seen eating or drinking for a month, The United Daily News reported.

It happened that the Islamic month of fasting known as Ramadan coincided with the Muslim maid’s first month of employment, and due to language difficulties, the maid was unable to explain this to her employer.

Her employer became concerned for his worker’s wellbeing when she was never seen consuming food or drink. When the man sought help at the Labor Affairs Department, he was relieved to learn that her refusal to eat and drink was for religious reasons, and that she was indeed eating and drinking during the hours of darkness.

Another case, this time involving a Vietnamese factory worker surnamed Nguyen, was not such a happy story.

After arriving in Taiwan and working at the factory for a month, Nguyen needed to fly back to Vietnam to attend to urgent family matters. When she asked for annual leave from her supervisor, he wasn’t able to properly understand her request.

Seeing her supervisor nodding his head, the woman mistakenly thought that she had been granted permission to take leave. When she later returned from Vietnam and arrived at the factory, she was shocked to learn she had been fired for being absent without explanation for three consecutive days.

In order to assist migrant workers to become better adapted to life in Taiwan and to minimize misunderstandings arising from language difficulties, Liao announced that free Chinese classes would open from July 1 for workers coming from Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.

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