Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) Minister Jennifer Wang (王如玄) defended herself yesterday after being roundly criticized for saying that without the government’s NT$22,000 monthly subsidy for businesses that hire recent graduates, “these people would not even get a dime.”
In an interview in the latest edition of CommonWealth Magazine, released yesterday, Wang talked about a program launched by the Ministry of Education last year that provides a monthly subsidy to companies that hire college and vocational school graduates for a year.
The magazine quoted Wang as saying: “These people originally had no jobs. The labor market works according to supply and demand. The timing last year saw no job openings. How can [jobless graduates] complain that NT$22,000 is too little?”
Wang went on to defend the program, saying that the global financial crisis sharply decreased businesses’ recruitment plans and that graduates with little or no experience were especially vulnerable in such times.
The program encouraged businesses to recruit new workers without incurring many additional costs, while helping young workers gain experience and a steady income for at least a year, the minister said.
The ministry budgeted NT$12 billion (US$354 million) to subsidize businesses that hired new graduates. Businesses receive NT$26,000 for each fresh graduate hired for a one-year internship or short-term work contract. The employees are paid NT$22,000 per month for up to a year.
Although government officials said the program was launched to stimulate the job market and help graduates find work, the plan has since been widely criticized by labor representatives and the public.
Wang’s interview only added fuel to the fire, as labor representatives, legislators and young people yesterday lashed out at the council.
National Federation of Independent Trade Unions president Chu Wei-li (朱維立) accused the council of shirking its responsibility to help promote job prospects.
“By subsidizing businesses at such low salary standards, the government is leading the way for even lower ‘pricing’ of inexperienced workers. Businesses now have an incentive to set the standard at NT$22,000 for all new recruits,” he said.
“Now the council shirks its responsibilities by saying that this is a result of supply and demand, which is extremely irresponsible,” he said.
Young people also gave the program the thumbs down.
Joe, a 24-year-old due to graduate this summer, said the plan “makes graduates wish they were dead.”
“[Wang’s comments] prove that she only promoted this plan to lower the number of unemployed. The [council] did not hesitate to sacrifice salary standards for graduates to make itself look good, and then expects [graduates] to be grateful,” he said.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus secretary-general Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) said Wang meant well, but needed to be more cautious when speaking.
KMT Legislator Shyu Jong-Shyoung (徐中雄) of the legislature’s Economics Committee said the minister should accept public criticism because none of the council’s measures to change college graduates’ unemployment problems were effective.
DPP legislators, meanwhile, asked her to apologize or step down, calling her “unsuitable” for the post.
Speaking in the Legislative Yuan, DPP Legislator Pan Meng-an (潘孟安) said that he disagreed with the comparison between the salaries and government hand-outs made by Wang, saying that the NT$22,000 was paid out in return for hard work.
He added that he sympathized with the students and their families over the minister’s comments.
DPP Legislator Huang Wei-cher (黃偉哲) said that Wang ignored the economic conditions in which the students accepted such work, saying:
“If the economic situation was better, who would need the subsidies?”
In her defense, Wang said yesterday she was very concerned about graduates’ job search in light of last year’s recession.
“I hope that [graduates] would first land a job before seeking a better job,” she said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY FLORA WANG AND VINCENT Y. CHAO
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