April minimum wage rise likely: CLA

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – A rise in the minimum wage was likely in April amid upbeat economic projections by the government, Council of Labor Affairs Minister Pan Shih-wei said Tuesday.
Former Premier Sean Chen sank a proposal for a rise last October by tying an eventual hike to two new factors, two consecutive months of unemployment below 4 percent or two consecutive quarters of economic growth above 3 percent. Then-CLA Minister Jennifer Wang resigned because of Chen’s veto against the hike by NT$267 (US$9) to NT$19,047 (US$643) a month.
If economic growth reached 3 percent for the first quarter, there was a high likelihood that the basic minimum wage could be raised in April, Pan said, though he was more careful about a second rise in July, when the committee to discuss wage hikes meets again.
According to government data, the economy grew by 3.42 percent during the last quarter of 2012, while estimates predict around 3.53 percent for the full year 2013. Government officials have even hinted at 4 percent or more, reports said, though researchers and analysts said any major upward adjustments in predictions for the year were unlikely within the next month.
Pan added that he also felt optimism about wage rises in general for the rest of the year. He dropped previous guarded statements to tell reporters that once the government’s preconditions were met, he hoped the hike could be introduced as soon as possible. Pan still failed to give a precise date though.
The minister’s statements came amid growing labor anger over the government of President Ma Ying-jeou, which unions perceive as leaning too far in favor of business interests.
Just before the Lunar New Year holiday, laid-off workers occupied rail tracks at Taipei Railway Station and threatened more protests. Unions and their sympathizers have held several mass rallies since the previous Cabinet scuttled the originally planned minimum wage hike.
There has also been widespread dissatisfaction about the fact that the average wage in Taiwan has fallen back to levels not seen since 1998, during the rule of President Lee Teng-hui. Fresh graduates often only earn NT$22,000 (US$743) a month.
New Council for Economic Planning and Development Minister Kuan Chung-ming, who predicted a possibility of 4 percent economic growth for 2013 or 2014, added that wages might be slower in following the upward trend because they were a reflection of increased productivity.
The labor movement has also shown concern about apparent government plans to separate wages for foreign labor from those for foreign workers in future special economic zones. The measure would encourage the employment of imported labor because of lower wages and would also force local salaries down, critics said.