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China Times: An angry Labor Day

2012/05/02 11:28:01

More than 10 years ago, there was a best-selling book titled "Who Moved My Cheese?" about the different reactions shown by its four characters to change, as represented by the cheese. The message of Author Spencer Johnson's story was to warn people that "if you do not change, you can become extinct."

Cheese can be one's employment opportunity, a business, an industry, a city and even a country's survival. In today's globalized world, however, people are discovering that those who stole their cheese are not even from their own country.

This is why Labor Day is telling more and more sad stories.

Taiwan began to discuss industrial transformation 20 years ago, but workers and entrepreneurs continue even today to debate the "necessity of sweatshops."

At the same time, the number of "atypical" workers has continued to rise to 900,000 people, up from 76,000 people in 2002. Surveys reveal that the pay of contract workers is only 53 percent of regularly employed workers. While part-timers earned NT$24,000 a month in 2001, their income dropped to NT$14,000 in 2010.

In 2010, there were 722,000 people whose monthly income was below the minimum wage, accounting for nearly 10 percent of all employees in the country, who total 8 million people. More than 40 percent of all employees, or 3.6 million people, make less than NT$30,000 a month, far below the national average of NT$45,000.

Between 1999 and 2010, Taiwan's gross domestic product increased by 29.4 percent, but salaries rose by just 4.7 percent, appallingly low when compared with Singapore and South Korea, where average salaries jumped 70 percent and 65 percent, respectively, during the same period.

A survey conducted last year by the Swiss-based International Institute for Management Development found that labor costs at domestic businesses fell by 12 percent. This shows that Taiwanese businesses have maintained their competitiveness at the expense of workers.

The administration of President Ma Ying-jeou has decided to compile a "happiness index" starting this year. But how can people feel happy when their pay remains stagnant or has even gone down? In his next four-year term, Ma must work to improve labor conditions in the country and boost workers' real earnings to stop the sense of anger and helplessness that reoccur each year on Labor Day. (Editorial abstract -- May 2, 2012)

(By Y.F. Low)