The Council of Labor Affairs was formally upgraded to the Ministry of Labor yesterday, with the new minister pledging to improve the country’s labor environment, while members of several labor groups clashed with police outside the ministry building in a protest against low wages.
Minister of Labor Pan Shih-wei (潘世偉) said at the opening ceremony, which was attended by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), that the ministry plans to prioritize certain tasks to safeguard the welfare of workers and ensure the sustainable development of businesses.
The creation of the new ministry is part of the government’s restructuring plan.
Pan said the ministry would try to help the country “move upward” and seek to improve workers’ incomes and job opportunities.
However, he said that greater public consensus is needed to tackle current labor issues as they are much more complicated than in the past, given the globalized economy.
The ministry will seek to facilitate more dialogue between employers and employees, improve labor education and retirement and insurance systems, and push for a better work-life balance for workers, Pan said.
It will also aim to lower employment discrimination, improve gender equality in the workplace, create safer and healthier work environments, strengthen workforce development, improve employment security and participate in more international organizations, he added.
Several labor groups, including the Taiwan International Workers Association and the National Alliance of Laborers from Closed Factories, gathered outside the ministry building in protest against low wages.
Average real wages declined 3.4 percent between 2000 and 2012, and 3.5 percent between 2008 and 2012, the groups said, citing official statistics.
They accused the government of having failed to improve wages for workers, saying that all the wealth has gone to corporations, while their employees have been left in poverty.
The protesters were kept 200m away from the building by police. The groups had planned to give the labor minister an ice sculpture as a gift, to symbolize salary freezes.
Pan said after the ceremony that some companies had increased wages, which he believes is a sign of economic recovery.
“We will work on this more and find opportunities to talk to businesses,” he said.