Taiwan’s Minimum Wage Sucks – Why I’m Concerned

I came to Taiwan over three years ago. since then, I graduated with a Master’s, got jobs that I was interested in, found my partner, and created my own wee life for myself.

Yet, I’m still worried about the future in Taiwan for a few reasons. One big reason that makes me consider my future in Taiwan is wages. I don’t believe wages here are truly livable and as time goes on, Taiwan needs to increase wages to be on par with its neighbours and the world.

Low salaries and low minimum wages

To be frank, wages in Taiwan for locals and foreign nationals suck. Locals are severely underpaid but companies raking in profits, and foreign nationals have not seen an increase in their government mandatory minimum wage. The Ketagalan Media summarized everything up wonderfully in their article on the question of the wage crisis in Taiwan:

If Taiwan’s minimum wage had grown in tandem with the minimum wages of the other countries and remained one of the highest in this group, Taiwan’s minimum wage today would be in the range of between NT$36,500 and NT$48,000, about where Spain and South Korea are today, respectively.

Instead of growing in line with other countries, Taiwan’s minimum wage has stagnated. It hasn’t even been increased to be on par with inflation.

Tsai and minimum wage increases

Sure, Tsai’s government has increased the minimum wage, but sadly this decision is too little, too late. The new wage of NT$23,800 is nowhere near the NT$36,500 to NT48,000 it should be.

It is great that local wages are starting to increase, but there are other issues.

The foreign expert minimum hasn’t increased. As well as that, English teachers are still earning the same NT$600 an hour they were in the very 2000s.

I know what a lot of you are going to say “that’s still a great hourly rate for Taiwan, and foreign experts get paid a lot more than locals.” You’re correct. These wages rock for Taiwan, but they are absolutely not internationally competitive. If Taiwan wants to prevent brain drain, then it needs to:

  1. Increase the local minimum wage to NT$30,000
  2. Increase foreign expert and migrant worker wages to be internationally competitive
  3. Create incentives to make industries invest in innovation
  4. Move as fast as possible away from low-cost models that undervalue wages

I can’t count the number of foreign experts that I know that left Taiwan because they got better offers elsewhere. From China, Japan, Thailand, Europe, and Australia. While Taiwanes companies continue to cut corners and care more about saving than investing, it is leave Taiwan behind in the dust of other countries.

Staying here for Taiwan and not money

I’m really happy with my current wage. My current company has been really good to me. However, I’m not sure how future-proof my wages would be for the future. I’m young enough that experience and interesting projects sound better to me than earning a high wage with boring work.

My hope is that my wages will increase to a state where I can more reasonably save a significant amount of money towards my pension and future investments.

If I was an English teacher, I’d be more concerned. The wage ceiling is more well defined. Added to that, experienced teachers with qualifications that ask for higher rates can be passed off for new teachers in the market. Again, low cost models are a detriment.

Whether you’re a teacher or working in other industries, the likelihood is that you’re here because you like Taiwan, and not for the wages.

Despite what many local Taiwanese think, foreigners are generally here because they enjoy living here, and not because of the wages.

Closing thoughts

I hope by the time I’m hitting my 30s that I won’t need to overly worry about my income and pension, and more on the kind of work I’m doing.

I’d probably still be thinking about the issue of my income if I were in Ireland. The difference would be that I wouldn’t be in a job market that wasn’t overly restrictive to me because of my nationality.

Tomás Swinburne

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