A higher monthly minimum wage of NT$19,273 took effect yesterday, but the focus of the wage debate was already turning to the idea of a living wage.
The new minimum wage, approved by the Cabinet in September last year, represents a 1.2 percent increase from the previous level of NT$19,047. About 1.52 million Taiwanese and 290,000 foreign workers are expected to benefit from the increase.
As the minimum wage was being raised, the Ministry of Labor met with central and local government officials, experts and labor groups on Monday to discuss the living wage concept and agreed that cities and counties could set their own living wage standards.
A living wage is defined as the minimum amount a person must earn to reach a basic standard of living and is usually higher than the minimum wage, which is the minimum employers can legally pay their employees.
Labor ministry official Liu Chuan-min (劉傳名) said that the meeting looked at such questions as whether living wage standards would be enforced and whether they would lead to different pay for the same work in different parts of the nation.
“The setting of a living wage will not be binding for private companies, but it could have an effect on them,” Liu said, possibly by demanding that government contractors pay living wages or using it to push wages higher.
“Taipei has already set its own living wage standard that has benefited about 7,000 workers,” Liu said. “The labor ministry hopes that other local governments can follow suit, with the financial burden of the program dependent on each region’s finances.”
Some labor groups have raised concerns that different living wage standards across Taiwan would lead to a violation of the “equal pay for equal work” principle and cause regional imbalances in where people decide to work and a gap between the city and the countryside.
However, Liu said that the “equal pay for equal work” concept should not affect the living wage discussion.
“Equal pay for equal work involves not giving different pay for the same job, but it [the concept] should not be extended without limit to the setting of regional living wages,” he said.
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