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`Working poor' phenomenon worries labor rights advocates

2011/01/27 17:16:39

Taipei, Jan. 27 (CNA) The "working poor" phenomenon in Taiwanremains a concern, despite the latest official statistics showingthat the unemployment rate has fallen to below 5 percent, laborrights advocates said Thursday.

"If there is one word that can describe Taiwan's laborenvironment in 2010, it would be the `working poor phenomenon, 'which could haunt Taiwanese workers for a long time, " Sun Yu-lien,secretary-general of the Taiwan Labor Front, said in a pressconference.

Taiwan's unemployment rate was lowered to 4.67 percent lastDecember, showing that Premier Wu Den-yih has fulfilled his pledgeearly last year to narrow the jobless rate to below 5 percent.

However, the local average monthly wage of NT$42,141 (US$1451) in2010 has fallen to the 1998 level, and the number of workers who werepaid less than NT$20,000 (US$689) per month has reached 1.38 million,around 12.4 percent of Taiwan's total workforce of 11.1 million, Sunsaid, citing statistics released by the Directorate-General ofBudget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS).

The "working poor" are defined in the United States as personswho spent at least 27 weeks in the labor force during the year(working or looking for work) , but whose incomes fell below theofficial poverty level. The term has not been clearly defined inTaiwan.

The government did lower the jobless rate, but it failed totackle the issue of the working poor, which could ultimately lead toa wide range of social problems such as low birth rate and high crimerate, Sun said.

The numbers show that Taiwanese workers received low wagesdespite their average working hours per year ranking among the topfive in the world, said Huang Shu-ying, a legislator of theopposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

On average, she said, a Taiwanese worker tallied 2,154 workinghours in 2008, 51 percent more than a German worker's 1,432 hours inthe same year, although the German worker's salary was three timeshigher.

"Without a doubt, Taiwan's labor environment has beendeteriorating. It is going to take joint efforts by differentagencies of the Cabinet, rather than only the Council of LaborAffairs, to solve the problem, " said Chang Feng-yi, executivedirector of the Taiwan Labor and Social Policy Research Association.

Chang also warned of the increasing rate of unemployed universitygraduates. There were more than 100,000 university graduates who werenot employed for at least 12 months in Taiwan last year, whichaccounted for over 45 percent of the unemployed.

The number suggests that Taiwan's high education policy might notbe well-connected to its labor policy and market, Chang said, sincemore than 160 local universities have produced too many graduates forthe labor market to absorb.

(By Chris Wang)