Fri, Nov 02, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Polarizing society will not resolve this debate

By Hsu Yu-fang 許又方

Certain sections of society have come under attack recently because of the nature of their pension arrangements. Many have criticized what they consider the preferential treatment that retired government employees — military personnel, public school teachers and civil servants — can expect to get in regard to their pensions compared with non-government employees. The criticism has at times been fierce.

While it is important to debate whether the government is giving too few guarantees on private-sector workers’ retirement, or whether the welfare payments it has promised to retired government employees are reasonable, the issue needs to be viewed objectively.

Unfortunately, certain members of the media and politicians have oversimplified the matter, broadly categorizing people into “public servants” and “workers,” crying foul on behalf of the latter and coming down hard on the former. In so doing, they are disregarding the existence of differences within each group. This approach is crude and may have other motives behind it.

The initial impression is that private-sector workers do indeed have fewer guarantees than public-sector employees, but does this mean that the income of the former is necessarily lower and that their retirement would be much more difficult than that of former government employees? There are sub-levels within any group. Middle and senior management personnel in a high-tech company are defined as workers; managers and supervisors in a bank are also considered workers; celebrities are classed as workers too. Some of these people earn more in a year than a high-school teacher earns in a lifetime.

By the same token, there are different ranks in the civil service, such as junior civil servants and senior civil servants. There are “fat cats” who enjoy an 18 percent preferential interest rate on their savings, allowing them to earn NT$30,000 to NT$50,000 in annual interest alone. However, there are also veterans who have had a difficult life at work and continue to lead a difficult life in their retirement.

If we were to continue the logic of the oversimplified groupings discussed above, the discussion should be in terms of “those who live a privileged existence” compared with “those who find it hard to make ends meet,” and not “government employees” versus “workers.”

However, would any of these definitions be sufficient to cover all 9 million private-sector workers in this country, or all 600,000 people employed by the government? It seems unlikely.

Division of labor is a necessary part of human society. It would be impossible for societies to develop, or to maintain order, without different levels of status and position, or without diversity of employment. This is a necessary phenomenon in a free society. To ignore these differences, and to pursue a world in which everyone receives the same treatment at work and the same guarantees in their retirement is pure folly. Do workers doing the same kind of job but working for different companies not expect to get different salaries and different perks?

Debating unfair and unreasonable welfare for government employees is good, but it should not be used as a pretext for increasing tensions between different groups within society.

Hsu Yu-fang is a professor of Sinophone Literature at National Dong Hwa University.

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