A series of reports on food and drink vendors across the country raising prices have recently been circulating in domestic media, with everything from pork belly rice to hand-shaken drinks, pizza and fried chicken coming under the microscope.
It is difficult to think of another country in the world that places such a high degree of attention on price rises as Taiwan. The public’s acute sensitivity toward commodity prices is a result of virtual wage stagnation coupled with frequent commodity price rises, which has lead to a feeling of disenfranchisement among the public.
It might be difficult for non-Taiwanese to comprehend why news about food and drink price hikes should command so many column inches in Taiwanese newspapers and media outlets. Why is it that Taiwanese public opinion gets so het up over price increases of just NT$5 or NT$10, and why does the media feel it necessary to respond with almost blanket coverage? If consumers chose not to buy these products, would the impact really be that significant?
In fact, the impact would be huge. In recent years, the public has become very sensitive toward commodity prices, as in Taiwan everything goes up except for people’s salaries. This is especially true for consumers of food and beverages, since these purchases form a regular part of their daily lives. Consequently, any price hikes attract criticism and resentment.
According to data released by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, in November last year the average salary in Taiwan was NT$41,249, an increase of 2.56 percent on the previous year’s figure. Some commentators therefore argue that this comparison is unfair, since salaries have in fact increased, not stagnated.
So let’s take the 2.56 percent increase figure as an example. In Taiwan, food and drink prices are set in round numbers; as a result, every time prices increase, they rise by NT$5 or NT$10. So, if the retail price of a beverage rises from NT$40 to NT$45, this is equal to an increase of 12.5 percent, an increase much steeper than that of average salaries. Moreover, while average salaries may have increased, it remains true that a great many people’s salaries have not.
When contrasted with neighboring countries, domestic commodity prices are stable, nor does Taiwan have an inflation problem. Taiwan’s consumer price index has held steady at just over 1 percent. However, salaries and incomes have stagnated so that any increase to daily food and drink prices will naturally have a direct impact on people’s pockets. Suppose everyone’s salaries increased by 10 or 15 percent, would anyone still quibble about a NT$5 or NT$10 bump in the price of a drink or fried chicken?
(Translated by Edward Jones, Taipei Times)
Until 2017, average salaries in Taiwan had stagnated for the previous 16 years. The average starting salary of university graduates increased by a measly NT$100 between 2000 and 2016, from NT$28,016 (around US$915) to NT$28,116. However, when price inflation is factored in, real salaries actually fell during this period.
This year the government has implemented measures attempting to alleviate Taiwan’s low salary problem. On Jan. 1, the minimum monthly wage increased from NT$22,000 to NT$23,100, and the minimum hourly wage rose from NT$140 to NT$150. The government is also forcing publicly listed companies to disclose the salaries of their non-management employees. Officials are attempting to carry off a delicate balancing act of intervening in the labor market to raise average wages, but without destroying the fundamentals of a free market economy.
Taiwan’s long-term problem of salary stagnation will certainly be a difficult nut to crack and its causes are many, including the impact from China’s booming economy, globalization, an oversupply of graduates and ingrained cultural practices and attitudes of employers.
(Edward Jones, Taipei Times)
Three adopted Japanese shibas — eight-year-old male Hero, three-year-old female Wish and the latest addition to the family in 2017, a male named Tiger — are the main protagonists of a Facebook page created by their owner, called Hero&Wish, which has over 5,000 followers. Tiger was originally a stray, although it is unclear what caused him to be homeless. Fortunately, he tramped onto a school campus in southern Taiwan. While classes were underway, the forlorn sound of feeble footsteps reverberated in the corridor outside. A teacher went out to investigate and discovered Tiger, with an astonishing trail of bloody paw prints
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