TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The massive gains being made by Taiwan’s tech giants in recent times are not translating into riches for the vast majority of the country's workers.
Roughly 25% of Taiwan’s working population earns no more than the minimum wage and survives on cheap takeaway food, according to government data from 2019 cited in a new in-depth report by Nikkei’s Asia Insight.
A wide variety of people fall in this category, including convenience store clerks, factory laborers, food vendors, and domestic workers. Many save money by eating cheap takeaway meals, like sandwiches and noodles sold by all-day breakfast shops that cost less than NT$50 (US$1.80).
Roy Ngerng (鄞義林), a Singaporean fair wage advocate who is based in Taipei, told Nikkei: "Asian countries as a whole use low food prices as a means to try to mask the fact that actually, the cost of living is not that low.
"I think even though Taiwan's food prices for eating out are cheap, if you compare (them) to wages it's not that cheap, especially with groceries and housing prices," he said. "The illusion is created that the cost of food is low, therefore wages can be kept low. This allows housing prices and other prices to rise without the minimum wage growing."
Indeed, it costs about as much to live in Taiwan as it does in Germany, a search on crowdsourced consumer price data platform Numbeo reveals. Though Taiwan’s minimum wage of NT$168 (US$6.03) per hour is about half that of Germany, which is pegged at NT$334.14 (US$12).
The Numbeo index calculates that, before rent, the average single person requires at least NT$22,676 to get by in Taiwan each month. Rental prices fluctuate substantially across the country, but a minimum of NT$8,000 is likely needed for housing, bringing the total to roughly NT$30,000 per month.
Though recent years have seen a slight increase in the average wage, this usually only occurs to accommodate marginal increases in the minimum wage, according to Ngerng. Yet these small increases have not kept up with the rising costs of housing, child care, and other daily expenses.
Meanwhile, things have never been so good for Taiwanese tech. As demand surges, the country’s central bank expects the GDP to grow by 5.75% this year, and stock prices for companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC) soar upward.
Experts interviewed by Nikkei say that while workers in the tech sector may get rewarded with bonuses, those in the rest of the economy are living in a different reality. The lack of trickle-down money is evident, they say, in lagging private consumption which, as a percentage of GDP, has continued to fall since 2000.
Updated : 2022-05-08 09:07 GMT+08:00
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