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State-run companies' workers should share country's woes

Publication Date : 11-01-2013


If you join state-run businesses thinking you have arrived at a haven that provides employment protection, good salaries and handsome benefits, you should think again. You have to rethink why state-run businesses offer such good terms and whether you should take them for granted.

The ongoing row over fat bonuses for the employees of money-losing electricity supplier Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) and oil utility CPC Corp., Taiwan has forced us to rethink the role of state-run businesses and how different they are from private firms.

Union members from the two companies and other state-run firms have been enraged by the latest decision from lawmakers to sharply cut their bonuses, with some from Taipower threatening to go on a strike to “blackout” Taiwan.

The lawmakers' move comes after Premier Sean Chen reluctantly approved full or almost full bonuses for state-run businesses depending on their “performance”. Chen's action came despite widespread calls from the public that these money-losing units do not deserve any bonus at all.

The labour unions argue that they are hard-working people and their companies lose money not because of them. They blame the losses on the firms' duty to implement government policies.

What they are referring to are those government policies requiring them to stabilise prices at the expense of profits. They also have to absorb the energy subsidies given to the private sector by the government.

We do believe that employees at state-run businesses work hard. But working hard may not necessarily mean they deserve bonuses or, more generously, the kind of fat bonuses — 4.6 months of their salaries — they were asking for.

Many of their counterparts in the private sector may work as hard, but receive no or only small bonuses because their companies lose money. This is the logic of private businesses.

Somehow, state-run business employees do not think this logic applies to them. They think that whatever happens to the government and the nation should not take its toll on them; they are the protected ones.

But they must realise that their protection is valid only within an even bigger scheme of protection for society. They are part of the institutions — often monopolies — designed to protect the fundamental needs and key operations of the nation from manipulation at the hands of unscrupulous businesses that give priority to profits over anything else.

So until we break the monopolies or privatise these state-run businesses, their employees share the fundamental responsibilities of their companies. These employees — as well as the country's thousands of civil servants — are probably wrong thinking they deserve the protection because state-run businesses and government offices exist to provide them stable jobs.

State-run businesses and government offices exist to serve the nation, and they offer better salaries and benefits to motivate their staff to fulfill that purpose. So when the nation is in trouble, they should share their employers' responsibility of helping bail the nation out.

But the employees of our state-run firms are placing their own welfare above anything else without realising or admitting that they should not take their welfare for granted. Their welfare is tightly knitted to the responsibilities of their companies. They cannot say that they must take home fat bonuses no matter what their companies do.

To be fair, we are not saying that they do not deserve bonuses at all. We only hope that a fair bonus scheme can be worked out. We are asking these employees of state-run businesses to stop thinking they live in a well-protected cocoon immune to outside woes.

They should not be immune to these woes. And they must not be blind and deaf to the fact that the billions in losses inflicted on Taipower and CPC — excluding factors of mismanagement — actually reflects the country's overall economic problems.


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