10,000 workers march for 10 percent wage hike

Over 10,000 workers took to the streets of Taipei in a Labor Day march on Tuesday, heading to Legislative Yuan from Ketagalan Boulevard. (Photo courtesy of CNA, 2018.5.1)

Taipei, May 1 (CNA) Over 10,000 workers took to the streets of Taipei in a Labor Day march on Tuesday, demanding a 10 percent increase for all sectors and industries.

They also demanded that the government raise the monthly minimum wage to NT$28,000 (US$943), from the current NT$22,000.

They also called for a referendum on the Labor Standards Act be held in tandem with the local government elections on November 24, saying that the new amended provisions on flexible overtime work and shifts should be removed.

“No overwork; we want a referendum, higher wages and labor rights,” the protesters shouted as they gathered on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office and marched to the Legislative Yuan.

Addressing the rally, Chen Cheng-liang (陳政亮), an associate professor of sociology at Shih Hsin University, told the crowd that while Taiwan’s economy grew 28 percent over the period 2007 to 2016, the regular earnings of workers increased by just 8.3 percent.

“The fruits of economic development are not shared by workers,” he said.

Another university professor, Chen Shang-chih, told CNA that more than 70 percent of Taiwan workers earn less than NT$40,000 per month, with 30 percent receiving between NT$30,000 and NT$40,000, 30 percent making between NT$20,000 and NT$30,000, and 10 percent earning less than NT$20,000.

He said the figure of NT$49,898 per month stated by Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德) earlier in the day at an award ceremony for “model workers” did not reflect the pay of the average worker because it was skewed by the high salaries of the wealthy.

While the government cannot force enterprises to increase salaries, it has the policy tools to address the issue of wage stagnation, said Chen Shang-chih (陳尚志), an associate professor of political science at National Chengchi University.

For example, he said, the government can better protect trade union leaders so they can negotiate with employers and advocate for labor rights without having to worry about losing their jobs.

A trade union leader at the march said the wealth gap in Taiwan is an indication of the government’s poor policies on worker’s rights and its failure to deliver on campaign promises.

“Salary growth in Taiwan over the past 15 years has been decoupled from workers’ productivity, resulting in a concentration of wealth in an increasingly small number of hands,” said Shih Shao-hua (施少華), leader of Nan Shan Life Insurance trade union.

The labor groups that jointly initiated the referendum petition on the Labor Standards Act are hoping it can be held alongside the municipal elections in November to maximize turnout.

To meet that deadline, they would have to submit the petition with the required number of signatures to the Central Election Commission by September 16.

Under the Referendum Act, the number of signatures needed for a referendum petition to pass the second stage is 280,000, or 1.5 percent of the electorate.

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan)