In the past, Taiwan created many economic miracles and was a role model for many other Asian countries. However, over the past few years, growth in national income has slowed and wealth distribution has become increasingly imbalanced.
These economic woes can be traced to the widespread practice of employing temporary workers and business emphasis on profit centers.
Taiwan should never have adopted the temporary-worker system. Temp agencies treat workers as commodities, exploiting them and divvying up their pay. It also happens that the government is the biggest promoter of this system. To cut costs, it employs large numbers of temporary workers, forcing out regular workers and pushing down income levels. The combination of these factors makes workers’ lives very tough.
Another problem is the adoption of the profit-center system — in which all departments in a company compete with each other in increasing the company’s nominal value.
Since this increases directors’ bonuses and shareholders’ dividends, most people assume this is a result of the managing director doing a good job, but little do they know that, more often than not, there are a lot of immoral business practices going on behind the scenes. Since any market is limited, companies, in their pursuit of profit and growth, have to look at cutting costs at every level, which is why there are so many tainted or fake products on the market.
Yet another problem is companies driving down salaries and forcing one person do the job of several people, because if they refuse, there is always someone else willing to do the work. However, middle and upper management continues to enjoy high salaries.
Whoever has power can make a profit, while consumers and employees are the losers. A responsible government should show courage by solving such problems through the legal system instead of pretending they do not exist.
The government should think about the following issues.
Temp agencies should be stopped. The government should not only stop using temporary workers, it should also establish a system of labor guarantees and apply strict limits on temp agencies. Doing so would put the employment system back on track.
Businesses should be held more accountable. In order to protect consumers, the government should show its resolve and make a company accountable for the products it manufactures or sells.
When it has been proven that a certain company’s product has hurt consumers, those in charge of the company should be held responsible. Even if a product has been outsourced to another firm, the leaders of the company whose brand is stamped on the product should be held accountable.
How can it be that highly paid business leaders do not have to take responsibility when things go wrong? How does this help protect consumers’ rights and interests?
Finally, salaries should be made more reasonable and transparent to let everyone see the difference in pay between company leaders, senior and middle management, and employees. Consumers should be informed about companies that have unjust salary policies and boycott such unscrupulous companies and their products.
For the remainder of his term in office, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his government should work on establishing a sound labor system and make businesses more accountable for what they do for the greater good of society.
Sophie Tsou is an associate professor at the National Taipei University’s Department of Real Estate and Built Environment.
Translated by Drew Cameron