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Pension reform needs to be fair to laborers, civil servants

Employees in the government sector face possible allowance and pension cuts because of the country's worsening economy, but many of them are blaming their counterparts from the private sector for creating the trouble for them.

Those civil servants and employees in state-run businesses are not saying that workers in the private sector are the cause of the economic woes. They are complaining that Pandora's box has been opened by talk of the imminent collapse of the labor insurance program.

Such talk has led critics, commentators and laborers themselves to compare the labor pension scheme to that of government employees, who have no worries about layoffs, receive a stable income and enjoy retirement payments for which, in some cases, they receive unusually high savings interest.

This talk has led to calls for reforming civil servant retirement benefits, which have in turn angered many civil servants and driven them to accuse laborers of being jealous.

Of course the laborers are jealous, particularly when salary levels in the private sector have been stagnant for about a decade, the minimum wage remains below NT$20,000 and the threat of retiring without any pension is so tangible and imminent.

Civil servants probably think they deserve what they receive from the government, and we are not trying to argue whether or not they deserve their salaries and benefits, as that is not the point of the issue.

Jealousy does not mean that it is a totally emotional issue where reform does not have a place. The kind of jealousy we are witnessing now in Taiwan is symptomatic of a society in which stability and harmony are on the verge of collapsing and badly in need of fundamental change.

Reform usually has positive implications, but it does not necessarily, in this case, result in more income for either government employees or laborers. Reform here refers to measures that can save the country from collapsing and keep it in operable conditions.

In Greece, reform reads austerity measures, condemning every one of its populace to suffering in one way or another in order to keep the country afloat.

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