Wed, Dec 04, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan’s public-private divide

By Li Kuan-long 李坤隆

Amid the great debate over year-end bonuses at state-owned enterprises earlier this year, the Council for Labor Affairs released a survey on workers’ living standards and employment prospects. The report showed that over the past year, 51.2 percent of workers had put in overtime, with 28 percent working for more than 12 hours a day, up 1 percentage point from the previous year and exhibiting an upward trend over the past three years.

Does this not represent a gross disparity between the public and private sectors?

Whenever the issue of state bonuses is mentioned, the general public angrily complains about the practice.

However, as far as the recipients of these bonuses are concerned, they can just sit back and wait for the storm to pass, as they know that when all the shouting and hollering is over, they will get their bonuses as usual.

And the private-sector workers? The council announces its findings, and nothing changes in the following year.

Staffers at the council feel no qualms about any of this either, because they work in the public sector, and state officials have already pocketed their bonuses.

Herein lies the cause of the biggest headache for the nation’s workers, and the reason they can do little about it. They are faced with a government that cares only to the extent that its own interests are protected, and everyone else can go to hell.

If the global economy is sound, then the general public will benefit accordingly. However, as soon as there is a downturn in the global situation, it becomes a good excuse to explain why the domestic economy is suffering too.

Faced with this situation, the public cannot help but blame the government. Those employed in the private sector are not assured of job security, even if they work hard, and yet the privileged souls who work in the public sector, breezily going about their day-to-day jobs, can rest assured that their year-end bonuses will be safe.

The differences between the private and public sectors are becoming ever more glaring, and yet the government has no intention of doing anything about it.

How can the 9 million people of this country who work in the private sector accept this situation?

It is of paramount importance that the government addresses this issue. Otherwise, when society is split into two parallel yet unequal sectors and the resultant tensions become ever more untenable, things are likely to get pretty ugly.

Li Kuan-long is a lecturer at the Kaohsiung Campus of Shih Chien University.

Translated by Paul Cooper

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