Labor activists urge large minimum wage hike

Labor rights activists urged a large increase in the country's minimum wage level on Wednesday, a day ahead of a review meeting that could raise the minimum wages in the country by 3-5 percent.

The minimum wage level in Taiwan should be adjusted to NT$26,000 (US$841) per month and NT$163 per hour, the Taiwan Labour Front said, citing international trends, the need to boost employment and domestic demand, and to reduce the number of working poor, as reasons to make the adjustments.

Taiwan's minimum wage was most recently adjusted on July 1 last year, when it was raised by 3.81 percent to NT$20,008. The minimum hourly wage was also increased to NT$120.

The Ministry of Labor's minimum wage review committee is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the possibility of a further hike. It is believed that the minimum monthly and hourly wages may be increased by 3 and 5 percent, respectively, to NT$20,608 and NT$126.

Seven major business groups in Taiwan have said they will not attend the meeting for fear that labor groups will demand further hikes in salaries, said Lin Por-fong, chairman of the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce.

In response, the Taiwan Labour Front urged the government to proceed with the hike even if the business groups fail to show up for the meeting.

Taiwan Labour Front Secretary-general Son Yu-liam said the previous Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration had contributed to the low wages in Taiwan, as it had failed to adjust minimum wages during seven of its eight years of rule from 2000 to 2008.

Hung Ching-shu, director of the Poverty and Tax Policy Research Center, argued that the only and most effective way to reduce the number of working poor in Taiwan is to raise the minimum wages, as the government has done in the past few years.

He cited official figures as saying that the number of low-wage workers, or those who earn less than NT$20,000 a month, have significantly declined from 854,000 in 2005 to 534,000 in 2015.

Meanwhile, Lin Por-fong said business groups have fully expressed their opinions to the government, and hope that it will make the "correct" decision in Thursday's meeting.

He said the business associations would agree to the wage hike demand if the government introduces a policy of "one regular day off plus one flexible day off per week," as opposed to having the two fixed days off preferred by labor groups, and cut seven public holidays for laborers.