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Taiwan: If You Lost Your Job…


Photo of Jian Yi-hao

What would you feel if you are fired,  your small business goes bankrupt, or you simply cannot find any way to make a living?

In this most disastrous moment of economic downturn, many Taiwanese are losing their jobs and helplessly waiting for for all the dreadful news to stop. Some begin to blame themselves for being unemployed. Business Weekly (商業週刊), one of Taiwan's most popular mainstream financial magazine shows this trend:


In Taiwan, the job market is extremely difficult. According to the estimation from Council Of Labor Affairs, 90,000 full-time jobs vanished during the first six months in this year, and when the student graduation season comes in July, the unemployment rate will climb up to above 6%, the highest rate ever!


However, the fear and anxiety towards unemployment is even several times worse than actual unemployment rate.


According to an online opinion poll by Business Weekly and Yahoo! Kimo, nearly 50% (46.5%) are worried that they might get fired within the year. After cross- analysis, more than 40% of those with master and doctoral degrees also anticipate unemployment. Older people tend to be less secured.


Moreover, in this poll, nearly 60% (59.9%) feel that they won't be able to survive independently in the job market with their existing skills and abilities once they got fired. Within this group of people, more than 60% of those in the age between 23-40 think they are not going to survive in the job market. More than 40% of masters and doctors share the same feeling.

The only solution offered by mainstream media is: be prepared to become a casual laborer and be ready to upgrade one's personal ability. For example, on Commonwealth Magazine: Who can give me a stable job?


All middle age workers in this country are expecting to own a fishing rod (to have a competitive skill), to work with dignity, instead of depending on alms.

…and on United Daily News: Increase Personal Value by ACTION


“The world is changing, and your ‘perspective’ has to change too.” Wei Mei-rong thinks that one should self-forge to become “irreplaceable” by building up one's value in the job market, not just acquiring a special skill. Then one can gradually be far ahead of others and some day one will find another chance in job market.

However, to Jiang Yi-hao (江一豪), a worker and social activist, all these so-called solutions are nonsense. Jiang works in a remover company, writes for a left-wing citizen media Coolloud as a citizen reporter and fights for aborigines’ living right as a Han Taiwanese.  In a speech he gave in Tzu Chi University, he argued against these popular nonsense. He carried on the discussion in his blog, “Life is a Fight”:


“Some people say: One has to bear in mind that ‘dependent on relief is a kind of degradation’ so that one will not fall into unemployment. Complaining and passing the buck to others would not help at all, instead, ‘seize the day’ and ‘take action’ is the right attitude”. However, I believe it is this kind of sayings makes Taiwanese workers bite the ground.


“The financial tsunami started from the Wall Street in US, has extended to become a mass current of unemployment. The current rips all over the globe, from America, Europe, to Asia and affects everyone.” This sentence was used by Mr. Wang, the publisher, as the article lead, which precisely pointed out the source of our unemployment problem– it is the magnates holding financial capitals and their derivative products that create the waves in the markets, and after they grabbed away all the fortunes, the bubble burst out. And the cost is the massive unemployment. The working class is forced to swallow the bitter result of this game.


Now that all the injustice and unfairness that ignited the explosion of massive unemployment are not yet accounted for, while at the same time, the most deeply hurt working class people can barely survive because they are not protected by the social system, why should we still believe in the preaching that “dependent on relief is a kind of degradation”?


What kind of reasoning is this?!


However, day by day, flipping through every page in newspapers, this kind of bias and stupid statements are everywhere. Take Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company-the model corporation uphold by mainstream media like CommonWealth Magazine and Global Views Magazine(zh) -for example, in this month (March), mainstream media had given them full coverage on insignificant corporate news like how it once again won the first prize of Corporation Citizen Award from Commonwealth Magazine, or it's CEO Cai Li-Xing(蔡力行) was listed in Barron's Magazine's Most Respected CEO of the Year. Even the canceling of the CEO's unpaid annual leave because of short-term order increase became newspapers’ headlines. On the other hand, its labour dispute which happened around the same time went unnoticed in the mainstream media.


The reason why Taiwanese unemployed workers have to face poverty all alone and commit suicide by burning coals is, for the most part, that we always treat unemployment as a individual fault and error, while we fail to collectively reflect upon the serious shortcomings of our social system and structure. We should make it clear that it is the power elites’ capital game that leads to massive unemployment and people's suffering, hence, to reach a public consensus that “I lost my job and it is not just my fault”. Such consensus is the base for the advocacy for a systematic cure that can deal with the pain of unemployment. We should not go back to the old way and believe that the problem can be solved by worker's self adjustment or value adding training.


After my sharing in Tzu Chi University, some students brought forth their questions and feelings. One of them told me about his hauler father, and I replied to him that “every cent we workers earned are our blood and sweat with conscience. Not a single cent is without effort and righteousness” and in the end I said: “So I think, being a laborer is something to be proud of”.


It is absolutely wrong to say that we don't work hard enough; it is the society that does not understand our situation and shows no respect to us.


  • […] A labor activist in Taiwan criticizes commentaries which blame unemployed individuals while ignoring the shortcomings of the social system: 台灣的失業工人之所以會獨自走向貧窮、燒炭的命運,很大部分正是因為我們長期把失業當成個別勞工的錯誤與罪過,卻錯失集體面對、思考制度結構嚴重缺損的問題。如何透過這次因權貴階級把玩資本遊戲,而讓無辜勞工承擔痛苦的大失業潮,讓大眾至少能在「失業不只是我的錯」這個共識下,思考並推動妥善處理失業創傷的制度療法,才是一個正確的理絡,絕對不該再走回高唱勞工自我調適、增值的老路上。 The reason why Taiwanese unemployed workers have to face poverty alone and commit suicide by burning coals is, for the most part, that we always treat unemployment as a fault and error of individual labour, while we fail to collectively face and reflect upon the serious shortcomings of social system and structure. We should make it clear that it is the power elites' capital game that leads to massive unemployment and people's suffering, hence, to reach a public consensus that “I lost my job and it is not just my fault”. Such consensus is the base for further reflection and advocacy for a systematic cure that can deal with the pain of unemployment. We should not go back to the old way that asks workers to adjust themselves and increase their own value. […]

  • […] can see past reports on Taiwan and labor issues here, here, and here. By the way, foreign housekeepers and carers in Taiwan still have no legal right to labor […]

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