Thu, Mar 14, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Workplace equality is a tough sell in Taiwan

By Hsu Chia-ching 徐佳青

A recent survey in the Hsinchu Science-based Industrial Park shows that, in response to the newly-enacted Gender Equality Labor Law (兩性工作平等法), man-agers in high-tech industries may cut the number of female workers they employ. The survey concluded that, rather than promoting employment for women, the law actually fosters their unemployment.

The logic that leads to such a conclusion still holds ground in Taiwan because businesses want simply to remain traditional industries and have no aspirations to increase the scale of their activities. In the logic of the knowledge-based economic era, however, the cultivation of human resources is key to competitiveness. US companies, for example, try everything they can to attract innovative and capable workers with high salaries and generous welfare packages. No company with great aspirations will resent its manpower costs, much less sift out workers of a particular gender. That is why the high-tech industry in the US is way ahead of those of other countries today.

Due to the rapid economic and social development of the past 10 years, there is no longer a gap between women and men in Taiwan in terms of educational level. The employment rate for women has remained at around 45 percent, lower than the figures for Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore. This is because women in Taiwan have been shackled by their social roles (many leave their jobs voluntarily or involuntarily after marriage or childbirth), or have experienced gender discrimination and employment inequalities in the workplace.

The new law should radically redress the disadvantages they face, so that Taiwan can continue its development and improve the way it uses its human resources. This will not only help improve Taiwan's reputation on human rights, but will also allow the country to connect seamlessly with the operational logic of international corporations.

Most of the multinationals and foreign businesses that have invested and built factories in Taiwan offer incentives to their employees that are based on the standards of their own countries. Many talented men and women are therefore attracted to these businesses. Homegrown companies, on the other hand, face a shortage of high-level human resources and often have to employ people from other countries. They don't necessarily spend any less than the foreign companies because their management and communication costs are increased.

Raising employees' benefits and working conditions to the level of those of their foreign counterparts could help local companies get outstanding local talent to work for them. Within multinational cooperations, it may even prevent disputes and integration difficulties caused by large gaps in labor conditions. The new law provides an important basis for upgrading Taiwan's industries.

Traditional employment models are now increasingly a thing of the past. Meanwhile, the service sector and the newly emerging knowledge-based industries are thriving. The traditional models do not serve adequately to cultivate human resources for these industries. One example is Nokia, of Finland, a country that cherishes its female labor force.

Nokia has a higher ratio of female employees than other corporations. The dramatic rise in the proportions of female employees in newly emerging sectors also reflect a rise in corporate profits and business scale. It is a result of putting the female labor force to good use.

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