Hundreds of thousands of teachers and civil servants (both working and retired) staged a sit-in in front of the Presidential Office yesterday to protest President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) claim that they have benefited from certain vested interests, a claim which came into play during the recent election campaign.
They also pressed for the resignation of Minister of Civil Service Chu Wu-hsien, who they said revamped the pension plan in an arbitrary manner weeks before the polls simply to please Chen and his Democratic Progressive Party.
Wearing headbands that read "support equitable wealth and oppose social divisions," the demonstrators voiced outrage against the new pension plan.
The plan, originally due to take effect next Friday, has been put on hold after the Examination Yuan found its enforcement would create more confusion than earlier envisioned.
Under the recently amended plan, the three groups may receive from 75 percent to 95 percent of their salaries in monthly retirement stipends - including the special 18-percent interest income on their pension savings - after at least 25 years of service.
The latter privilege, no longer available for those starting their jobs after 1996, is cited as the main reason why some collect retirement benefits exceeding their salaries at work.
Chang Hsu-chung, chairman of Chunghwa Telecom Workers Union, told the protesters that the DPP suffered a crushing defeat in the three-in-one elections partly because of the unpopular policy change.
"It's unimaginable that Chen and DPP officials have repeatedly branded government employees, military personnel and teachers as greedy recipients of an unfair pension system when they have played an essential role in preserving social stability for the past 50 years," Chang said. "Let's not fall prey to the division tactic but stay united in pushing for a national pension program."
Seeking to consolidate DPP supporters in southern Taiwan, Chen promised to raise the monthly allowance for farmers, using funds from the cuts on retirement benefits for the three groups.
If implemented, the new system is expected to affect 240,000 people who may lose from NT$200 to NT$20,000 in pension allowance a month, depending on their ranks and length of service.
Chang urged workers to join hands and pressure the government to extend the special 18-percent interest rate to all of them rather than have it abolished or slashed.
"Let's vote down candidates that assign more importance to partisan interests than public welfare despite their political affiliations," he said. "It is people's power that sent former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos into exile and burned down the ancestral home of former South Korean President Kim Young-sam."
Chien Hsi-chieh (簡鍚堦), a former DPP lawmaker and labor rights activist, was also at the rally and said that a national pension system is the solution to the row over retirement benefits.
With senior citizens making up 10 percent of the population next year, Chien said the government must not delay creating a national pension program.
Chang Ying-mei, a retired teacher, said Chen promised three times to keep the preferential interest rate intact after assuming the presidency in 2000. "By introducing a cap (on the retirement benefits), the Chen administration violated the contract with us," she argued.
Tseng Tai-fa, a resident of Taoyuan County who taught in a junior high school for 36 years, said Chu should step down as he had fed the president false information.
The Examination Yuan woud find few retirees enjoying retirement benefits exceeding their salaries if it looked at their income on a yearly basis, since they are denied year-end bonuses and other perks, Tseng pointed out.
Justine Kuo, 61, a Taipei resident and retired high school teacher, said he would lose NT$10,000 from his monthly pension allowance if the government insists on going ahead with the new system. Currently, he collects over NT$70,000 a month, which he said is vital for mortgage payments.