Low ex­port num­bers are no ex­cuse for wage stag­na­tion

The China Post - - TAIWAN BUSINESS - BY YUAN-MING CHIAO

ANAYL­SIS

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.

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