Wed, Oct 12, 2011 - Page 2 News List

Hunger strikes to highlight poverty

GETTING WORSE:The Anti-Poverty Alliance says the rich in Taiwan are getting richer, while blue-collar workers are being paid less every year and poverty is deepening

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff Reporter

Former Democratic Progressive Party legislator Chien Hsi-chieh, with microphone, and other members of an anti-poverty alliance hold a press conference in Taipei yesterday to announce a 44-hour hunger strike that will begin on Sunday to highlight social inequality and urge the passage of welfare-related laws.

Photo: Liu Hsin-de, Taipei Times

Activists from the Anti-Poverty Alliance, which comprises 13 civic groups, held a press conference at the legislature in Taipei yesterday urging legislators to address the problem of the widening disparity between rich and poor in Taiwan.

They also announced plans for two 44-hour hunger strikes that will begin on Sunday.

Anti-Poverty Alliance representative Chien Hsi-chieh , a former Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker, said the gap between rich and poor is expanding in Taiwan, just like in the US and Europe.

Taiwan’s economic growth rate last year was 10.8 percent and labor productivity increased by 16 percent, but wages decreased by 11 percent, the alliance said.

It said the total income of employees accounted for only 44 percent of GDP, which was lower than in many other countries.

Twenty-five people from Taiwan were listed on Forbes’ latest list of the world’s richest people, and the wealth of the top 10 richest people in the nation has increased from US$30 billion to US$40.7 billion, Chien said.

However, there are about 1.04 million workers in Taiwan who receive less than NT$20,000 per month, he added.

He also questioned why the government gave preferential treatment, such as a sales tax exemption, to banks but not to other sectors, and said mounting frustration over the plight of the average wage earner would express itself as it had in recent weeks on Wall Street.

“Occupy Wall Street is not a single incident, but is spreading around the world,” Chien said.

Chien said the alliance would hold two “44-Hour Famine” hunger strikes to raise awareness about the unfair distribution of wealth in the country, with workers not receiving their deserved share.

The hunger strikes will take place in front of the legislature. The first will run from Sunday to Tuesday and the second will run from Tuesday to Thursday.

The groups will also protest against the government giving tax relief to enterprises when the working poor are becoming poorer, and they want to experience poverty through fasting.

Chen Fang-yu (陳方隅), a representative from a group called “Young people want to be rich,” said that about one-fourth of young people in their 20s work as dispatch workers or as hourly wage workers, often with low incomes, long working hours and no welfare benefits.

He said with incomes so low and housing prices high, “who still wants to get married and have children?”

Lin Yung-sung (林永頌), an attorney who advises victims of credit card debt, said some workers are only paid about NT$20,000 per month and had to pay between NT$4,000 and NT$5,000 per month to labor dispatch agencies.

Lin said that as many as 1.04 million Taiwanese — or 15 percent of the working population — earn less than NT$20,000 a month.

That means there are 220,000 more people in that income group than in 2008, at the height of the global financial crisis, Lin said.

The alliance said unemployment and low incomes were the roots of poverty and called on legislators to amend the Statute For Consumer Debt Clearance (消費者債務清理條例), regulations on student loans and the Housing Act (住宅法) during the current legislative session.

The alliance also voiced support for the “Occupy Taipei” rally that is scheduled for Saturday outside Taipei 101.

Additional reporting by CNA

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