A news story about a Taiwanese college graduate who turned his back on his financial training and chose instead to take a better-paid temp job as a butcher in an Australian slaughterhouse set off a heated debate last week about Taiwan’s grim job market and massive youth unemployment.
Those discussions led to the question: “Is Taiwan becoming a labor exporter?”
If the answer is yes, then it represents a major change to the country’s job market and puts the country’s ambition of joining the ranks of developed economies like Japan and South Korea at odds with reality.
The story was first published by the Chinese-language weekly Business Today. The 27-year-old student told of his horrifying experience working in an Australian abattoir where he was saving up to repay student loans and to earn money for the future. He said he was willing to work in such an extreme environment for the high salary it offered. He estimated that he could earn NT$1.25 million (US$42,600) a year in Australia, while at home a college graduate can only expect to earn about NT$320,000 a year — just over one-quarter of his Australian earnings.
This story is an extreme case, but it reflects the prevalence of high unemployment among Taiwan’s elite, who have struggled to find work with decent pay. Jobless figures highlighted this phenomenon, with youth unemployment hovering at nearly 13 percent in July, compared with an average 4.31 percent in Taiwan generally, based on the statistics from the Director-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS).
Young people with a bachelor’s degree are forced to turn to blue-collar jobs or an occupation with low social status, such as plumbing, to make a living.
For those not fortunate enough to have the backing of a wealthy family, young people from low income bracket backgrounds are presented with the “not-too-bad option” of making quick money by working overseas.
“To keep money coming in, we have to do jobs that most Australians are unwilling to do,” the student slaving away in the slaughterhouse said.
What is happening to Taiwan’s job market anyway? Is it a waste of national educational resources for a college graduate to do an unskilled job? What caused this drastic and structural change to Taiwan’s job market?
Except for the economic slump and oversupply of college graduates, the mindset of local corporate executives’ are also crucial. They are so proud of their cost-cutting abilities that they cannot give up this cost advantage to make money.
This sort of mindset has suppressed the wage growth for both white-collar and blue-collar jobs, with Taiwanese firms unwilling to give, and unable to afford, pay raises.
Taiwan’s average annual income for people aged between 30 and 34 years of age has actually declined and now stands at NT$556,000 — a 17-year low according to DGBAS figures.
More than that, it is pathetic that the Cabinet shelved a proposal by the Council of Labor Affairs to raise the minimum monthly wage to NT$19,047 next year from the current NT$17,680.
With hopes of a wage rise looking slim in the short term, or even in the long run, it seems to be that Taiwan is losing talent and that of course means it is losing its global competitiveness and economic strength.