TAIPEI, Sept. 3 : (AFP) – More than 100,000 people, mostly civil servants, took to Taipei’s streets Saturday in protest over planned reforms to the island’s struggling pension system, for which they say they are unfairly blamed.The massive demonstration was the latest challenge to President Tsai Ing-wen’s new government, which has seen its popularity ratings fall rapidly since taking the helm in May.
Taiwan’s pension schemes vary for different occupations and public sector retirees typically receive more generous packages than workers from other sectors which fall under a different labour pension system.The government has warned that various pension funds are estimated to go bankrupt from as early as 2020 if the system is not overhauled.
Retired civil servants, teachers, servicemen and firefighters shouted “oppose stigmatisation” and “demand dignity” as they gathered in a square near the presidential office in downtown Taipei. Police estimated a turnout of around 117,000 for the rally, the biggest public protest since Tsai took office.
“We are accused of stealing and robbing the country. Our dignity is hurt and we are very angry. Enough is enough,” rally organiser Peng Ju-yu told AFP.
Public sector employees do not oppose reforms but they are angry they are being unfairly blamed for bankrupting the pension system, Peng explained.In the past the government had to offer generous incentives to public sector employees as the starting salaries were low. But public sector jobs have become popular in the past decade amid economic slowdowns.
Tsai has said pension reform is “an unavoidable responsibility of our generation” to protect retirees.”I support pension reforms but they should be reasonable and transparent. It’s not fair to just blame public sector workers for dragging down the country’s finances,” said 35-year-old policeman Levi Lee.The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party warned the government against “stirring up hatred and confrontation.”
“We support pension reforms but they should be gradual and with supporting measures. The DPP has caused many problems with its rough methods,” said KMT spokesman Chou Chih-wei.Tsai has seen her support ratings slide to 41 percent from a high of 70 percent following a string of controversies, including the pension reform plans.
“The government should work harder to improve the economy and prevent big corporations from evading taxes instead of going after people who worked all their lives in public services,” said protester Kao Shu-rong, a 82-year-old retired civil servant.