Experts call for labor insurance reform

SHOULDERING THE BURDEN::The Confederation of Trade Unions says proposals to rescue the deficit-ridden Labor Insurance Fund increase the unfair burden on workers

By Huang Hsuan-pi and Jason Pan  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Thu, Nov 01, 2012 - Page 3

Immediate action is needed to overhaul the Labor Insurance Fund and the government must treat all sectors of society equally, experts said yesterday, adding that it was not only the labor insurance system that needs reform, but the pension system as well.

Reacting to reports that the Labor Insurance Fund is facing bankruptcy, experts said the government’s labor insurance policies were unfair, with very little protection for workers, but very generous pension and benefit packages for retired civil servants, military personnel and public school teachers.

The Labor Insurance Fund currently provides coverage for 9.81 million workers, with an estimated value of NT$530 billion (US$18.15 billion), according to a recent Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) report.

However, the fund has now accumulated hidden debts of more than NT$7.3 trillion, the report said.

The fund is thus forecast to be bankrupt by 2027, four years earlier than the previous estimate of 2031.

That means those under the age of 50 this year, estimated at about 7.5 million people, will be unable to collect from the fund by the time they apply for pension payments.

Confederation of Trade Unions secretary-general Hsieh Chuang-chih (謝創智) said the proposed measures by the council to rescue the fund — increasing premium rates, using a lower income-replacement rate, revising the rules on eligibility for the pension scheme to require longer years of work — are unfair ways of shifting the deficit burden onto workers.

“These might alleviate the risk of the fund going bankrupt in the long term, but it will harm the trust workers place in the reliability of the Labor Insurance Fund,” Hsieh said.

Currently, income for retired workers comes from the Labor Pension and the Labor Insurance Annuity. Council officials said these two combined add up to an income-replacement rate of 73.9 percent, which they said was higher than the 58 percent average for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.

Council officials said this showed that welfare and pension protection was better for Taiwan’s workers.

However, Hsieh said the figure of 73.9 percent given by the council overestimates the actual number. Taking a worker with a monthly wage of NT$32,000 as an example, upon retirement, they could receive NT$4,957 from the Labor Pension and NT$14,880 from the Labor Insurance Annuity, for an income-replacement rate of 61.9 percent.

Hsieh said it is even more unfair for a worker earning a higher monthly wage of NT$85,000. Upon retirement, his income-replacement rate is only 39.3 percent, which is far lower than that received by retired civil servants and military personnel.

Hsieh said the wide disparity is even more unfair because the pension plan for retired civil servants and military personnel is guaranteed by the government, while some workers work their entire lives, but cannot collect anything from their pension after unscrupulous employers fake bankruptcy.

Even though a new labor pension scheme was implemented in 2005, there are still several million workers under the old program, with no protection for their retirement pension.

Hsin Ping-lung (辛炳隆), a professor at National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of National Development, said many countries now face budget deficits in their social welfare programs because of changing population demographics.

He said the government must act now to fix the “black hole” in the labor insurance and pension programs.