Taiwan Labor Day protest targets pension reform

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Thousands of laborers took to the streets of Taipei Wednesday to mark Labor Day with a protest against President Ma Ying-jeou’s pension reforms and economic policies.
A range of unions organizing two different marches wanted the existing labor pension system to continue with the government setting aside a special labor retirement fund to pay for shortages in the original system. The activists called for a new approach based on how the government was treating teachers, military retirees and former civil servants, reports said.
Workers have accused the Ma Administration of favoring its core constituencies of government employees because it fears losing voters in next year’s local elections and in the 2016 presidential election.
The opposition Democratic Progressive Party said Ma had given workers three presents for Labor Day: low wages, long working hours and smaller pensions. The president should apologize to the country’s workers, the DPP said.
According to surveys last year, wages have returned to their levels of about 14 years ago, while a variety of pension schemes are facing bankruptcy estimated to happen within the next decade. The president has said his reforms will prevent the worst from happening, but critics condemned him for measures which benefited businesses and wealthy individuals as well as civil servants at the expense of labor.
Premier Jiang Yi-huah said Tuesday an increase of the basic minimum wage to NT$19,047 (US$645) a month from April 1 was safe despite lower-than-expected economic growth forecasts for the first quarter of the year. His predecessor, Sean Chen, canceled a previous minimum wage rise planned for late last year by introducing a link to economic growth and to the unemployment rate.
The measure led to protests by labor groups who accused the government of sacrificing workers’ interests for the sake of elusive economic advantages.
Another of the Labor Day grievances involves the fear that the government wants to do away with equal treatment of foreign and domestic labor. Under a plan for economic model zones near several prominent ports, the Cabinet could consider paying importer workers lower wages. Critics say the change is not only unfair, but it will also step up pressure on local workers to accept lower wages or stay unemployed.
The Presidential Office said it wanted the Executive Yuan to listen to labor’s grievances and to pay attention to relevant issues. Ruling Kuomintang lawmakers called on the Council of Labor Affairs not to submit its present pension reform plans to the Cabinet for review.