Thu, Mar 06, 2014 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Action needed on low salaries

When Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) said that the nation’s low salaries are a national disgrace, he spoke the truth.

And just like everyone who speaks the truth in Taiwan, he was immediately attacked from all sides by the government, which thinks that everything is just fine.

National Development Council Minister Kuan Chung-ming (管中閔) called Hau’s statement emotional, while Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) expressed his disagreement.

Still, as long as the government cannot devise a way to effectively handle the “three highs, one low” problem — high unemployment, high commodity prices, high housing prices and low salaries — it is not surprising that strong people within the party who are eyeing top leadership positions are following their own path.

Hau has unilaterally announced that he will raise salaries for the Taipei City Government’s temporary workers and hopes to raise the minimum wage to initiate a general salary increase.

Although this is a drop in the bucket, he has at least taken the first step.

New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) also ignored the central government and raised salaries last year.

Labor markets around the world have been suffering from high unemployment and low salaries, since the computerization and mechanization of production technology has greatly reduced the need for labor. Furthermore, the job market has become ever more internationalized as industry moves to countries with lower labor costs and as labor is imported from abroad, creating downward pressures on the need for, and salaries of, local workers. In addition, the use of temporary workers instead of full-time employees is increasing to decrease costs, while many routine duties, such as customer service, are outsourced to foreign companies as the number of local employees is reduced.

Many foreign governments are also focusing on improving the employment situation and increasing salaries in their countries. US President Barack Obama is visiting business leaders to bring overseas US companies back to the US, and Apple has agreed to bring back some production to the US, with the result that Hon Hai Technology Group — a major assembler of Apple products — has decided to follow the order book and also set up production in the US.

In addition to his “three arrows” policy, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has personally asked businesses to increase salaries to raise consumption and revitalize the economy. Because businesses have raised part-time salaries, January statistics are showing Japan’s first increase in basic salaries in 22 months.

Taiwan’s government always talks about how hard it is working to improve the economy, but it has done too little, too slowly and too late over the past five years, with the result that nothing has been accomplished. President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) “6-3-3” campaign pledge from 2008 has not been fulfilled, and the average salary has actually dropped to the level it was at 15 years ago. The commodity price index keeps increasing year after year and purchasing power among the general public is not what it used to be. Consumption is dropping and university students are looking for better-paid work abroad.

During the 1960s and 1970s, talented Taiwanese left the country to study and work abroad due to a lack of confidence in the authoritarian government. Now, they are abandoning low salaries and leaving in search of higher salaries and better jobs abroad because of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) inept rule. Saying that Taiwan’s low salaries are a national disgrace might be a tad harsh, but if even such heavy criticism is not enough to shake Ma up, then what else can we do?

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