These days anyone who works for a state-run company or government institution has become a target for public scorn. Military personnel, public servants, public-school teachers and workers in state-run enterprises have seen their popularity nosedive.
However, most people who make a living by working for the public authorities only earn enough to get by. Living on fixed salaries and nothing else, they will never get rich, but they won’t starve to death either.
In other words, most public employees do not resemble the picture painted by some people of living a life of undeserved wealth and privilege. It is not fair to tar them with the same brush.
Nevertheless, very few people have spoken up for them, at least in public, but why not?
It must be because of the poor impression that state-run companies and institutions in Taiwan have long given to the public.
If you ask most people what they think about those who work for the authorities, the answer is likely to be that they are careless, bureaucratic, stubborn and inflexible.
People feel that government employees are sloppy and indecisive, officious and overbearing and that they are often absent without leave.
Although not everyone employed by government departments and state-run establishments is that bad, it still remains that the negative impressions listed above are deeply implanted in the minds of the public.
To make matters worse, revelations about senior officials’ and managers’ involvement in corruption and malpractice keep being reported. Under such conditions, it is hard to get people to feel any respect for state-run institutions and their employees.
For example, I witnessed an incident once while making a trip to northern Taiwan on business.
My return journey coincided with the start of a holiday period, so there was a long line of people waiting at the train station’s ticket office.
Even though the crowd was getting restless, the other ticket window remained closed while a Taiwan Railway Administration employee could be seen sitting behind it reading a newspaper.
After about a quarter of an hour, one woman from the line got fed up and ran over to the closed ticket window, knocked on it and asked the ticket clerk why he was reading a paper and sipping tea instead of selling tickets.
The clerk answered, “This is my rest break … I’ve been working for quite a while so why can’t I have a bit of a rest?”
The clerk’s response was not entirely unreasonable, but would this ever happen in a privately owned business?
No wonder so many people complain that state-run establishments are less efficient than private ones and ask why their employees should get such big bonuses.
The incident with the ticket clerk is no isolated example; any member of the public who has had to deal with state-run companies or government departments must have witnessed similar things.
Those among us who do earn a living from the state no doubt wish that people would stop complaining about them.
Instead of shouting about how unfair it is, a better way to gain people’s sympathy would be for state employees to change their work attitude.
Hsu Yu-fang is a professor and chairman of Sinophone Literatures at National Dong Hua University.
Translated by Julian Clegg