Battle for a liveable wage highlights aloofness of gov't
The China Post news staffLaborers in Taiwan have been demanding a major increase in the minimum wage, but they are set to be disappointed. The Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) has tentatively decided to raise both the hourly and monthly wages, but the extent will be way below what the laborers are asking for.
August 30, 2013, 12:00 am TWN
But how much is reasonable?
The current minimum wages in Taiwan are NT$109 per hour and NT$19,047 per month. The CLA's salary evaluation committee has suggested that the wages be raised to NT$115 per hour beginning Jan. 1, 2014, and NT$19,273 per month beginning July 1, 2014. The increases have yet to be finalized, and employers may still maneuver to limit the increases.
The increased sums as they have been proposed so far aren't much. For monthly pay, it means a mere increase of NT$226 — approximately equivalent to five “biandang” if you don't eat much; or a bit more than two round trips between downtown Taipei and Tamsui on the MRT; or barely enough to pay for two visits to the doctor.
Labor activists have been asking for an increase to NT$22,639 per month, a level roughly on par with the “22K” level that many fresh university graduates are believed to be receiving for their first jobs.
Around NT$22,000 definitely isn't much for a well-educated young person. Taiwan's salary levels are notoriously low, and the current average has actually dropped compared to that of about a decade ago if inflation is taken into account.
Labor activists are accusing the Taiwan government of maintaining a “sweat shop” economy.
To be fair, when the economy is bad, it is difficult — if not impossible — to ask for more from employers. A responsible government should therefore be trying to maintain a balance, working as an intermediary between employers and the employee.
Having said that, we don't really know where we can locate that point of balance. Every figure seems to be arbitrarily determined. We may never be sure how much is enough for laborers and how much isn't. Laborers naturally want to earn more for the same amount of work; employers want to pay less.
The purpose of the minimum wage is to prevent laborers from being exploited by their employers. In this regard, Taiwan's laborers have been under protection for years, faring better than their counterparts in Hong Kong, which only introduced a minimum wage in 2010.
The minimum wage is also designed to prevent laborers from falling below the poverty line — which is yet another arbitrarily determined figure.
The BBC earlier this year ran a report about the rising number of Taiwanese living below the poverty line. The number surged by 29 percent to a record 357,000 in 2012, compared to the level in mid-2011, according to the BBC.
The report noted that 1.78 percent of Taiwanese were living below the poverty line and on welfare, which was low compared with Western countries and much lower than its Asian neighbors, such as South Korea and Japan.
But at the same time, Taiwan allocates a much smaller budget for social welfare than such neighbors. The report said that in 2012, Taiwan spent only 3.98 percent of its GDP on social welfare, far behind South Korea's 9 percent and Japan's 22 percent.
The number of Taiwanese living below the poverty line may be low, but is it only the result of the government's unrealistic definition of the poverty line?
The figures cited by the BBC definitely show that the Taiwan government is not doing as much as it should to take care of the underprivileged.
And is the government doing as much as it should to take care of the laborers? Laborers earning the minimum wage are by definition not poor, but they definitely are not living a comfortable life.