Low export numbers are no excuse for wage stagnation
Economics Minister John Deng’s statement yesterday that adjustments to the standard wage (Taiwan’s equivalent of a minimum wage) would be unlikely due to an increase recently and disappointing export figures will come as a sigh of relief for major corporations based in Taiwan. Government and leading industrial representatives will meet to discuss the issue today behind closed doors in New Taipei, leaving a pressing issue out of the hands of a major stakeholder in the economy: the nation’s workforce.
Calls to Bring Minimum
Wage to NT$26,000
The Taiwan Labour Front called current minimum wage levels a national disgrace yesterday and demanded a nationwide increase of approximately 30 percent to a total monthly minimum of NT$25,997 (from a current NT$20,008 a month). According to the organization’s general secretary Sun Yu-lien, 20 percent of Taiwan’s workers make less than NT$25,000 a month. He argued that access to pools of foreign labor has hampered any resolve on the part of the government to raise minimum wages. Presidential candidates from each of the three camps have not made clear stances on increasing workers’ compensation largely for fear of losing corporate backing.
The issue of course was temporarily sidelined by debates over nationalism. A few weeks ago, Kuomintang presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu criticized students protesting the high school curriculum guidelines, saying that corporations who had problems with economic policies did not in turn occupy the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA). The clear point is: there is no need for such acrimony on part of capital. Using abandonment of investment as coercion, some conglomerates and their allies not only strong arm the government to make their businesses run on lower costs (hence lower wages), they have convinced a great many of the public that their woes are the woes of the nation at large, something which needs to be taken into deeper consideration.
An Increasingly Smaller Share of the Pie
While industrial representatives cited weak economic growth as a reason not to raise the minimum wage, growth has remained consistent within the last year. On the other hand, Lee Chien-hung, a professor of labor-industry relations at Chinese Culture University, cited figures showing that the nation’s GDP (gross domestic product) was increasingly out of the hands of employees. Figures he cited from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that Taiwan is only ahead of Greece, Slovakia and Poland in the distribution of GDP to workers. An overall picture of nearly three decades shows an increasing trend in which profits as a whole have increased, indirect taxation has fallen yet compensation for employees is in steady decline (see graph).
Unfortunately, Taiwan’s democracy lacks political representation for its growing number of poorly paid and overworked citizens, who are more concerned with digging their heals behind ideological burdens in which they themselves have no real genuine intention of unknotting. Only by building broad support among different sectors in society can the nation build a solid consensus uncovering the fallacy behind current arguments that lay no blame on those who have profited most from globalization. It would be a new history that Taiwan’s population can write together, today.