Taiwan private university professors demand equal pay

PHOTO: The Straits Times

TAIPEI, Taiwan - University professors and lecturers working part time at private universities across Taiwan yesterday demanded that the government grant them wages equivalent to their public school counterparts.

In front of the Executive Yuan, members of the Taiwan Higher Education Union held placards and chanted slogans while explaining their plight in a small but emotionally charged protest. In addition to demanding equal pay in comparison to publicly staffed instructors, the union members also demanded that they be given social benefits including pensions and sick leave. The group had previously brought its demands to the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Ministry of Labor (MOL) to no effect, organizers complained.

A government representative sent to meet the protesters at the Executive Yuan's front gate did not address the group's two demands, and said he was only present to receive their written petition.

The group, made up of part-time and full-time teaching staff, family members as well as student supporters, demanded that the government equalize pay increases granted to part-time teaching staff at public institutions. THEU members said that while this pay increase represented the first for part-time teaching staff in 21 years, private institution staff were excluded due to pressure exerted from school administrators onto the government (see chart). The union claimed that private universities were operating under market principles at the cost of ensuring fair employment while sacrificing the quality of education offered to students in the process.

Protesters demanded that wage increases apply for the approximately 25,000 private teaching staff at Taiwan's higher education institutions. It also stated that over 45,000 part-time teaching staff should be covered under the Labor Standards Act.

Orphans Outside the Law

Organizers said that financial belt tightening by private institutions had made employment as part-time staff an insidious stop-gap measure to keep costs down, where part-time staff are neither categorized as professional instructors nor laborers guaranteed social benefits. For example, while lecturers are placed on the government-sponsored labour pension fund during the academic semester, they are not covered once the semester ends. Instructors in effect are working without pay when grading student work after lectures have concluded. Some staff members say that private institutions are looking to cut the months in which they are insured from the current 11 months to 10.

"This isn't a matter of getting a few extra dollars, but obtaining our basic respect," a part-time professor of ten years said.