Do Civil Servants in Taiwan Earn Twice as Much as Private Sector Workers?

Do Civil Servants in Taiwan Earn Twice as Much as Private Sector Workers?
Photo Credit: CNA

What you need to know

The mystery of how much Taiwan’s civil servants earn shows the government to be unserious about transparency and raising wages.

Taiwan’s Premier Su Tseng-chang announced last week that the salary of civil servants in Taiwan will be increased by 4%. 

But how much exactly do Taiwan’s civil servants earn? 

What is known is that the monthly minimum wage for civil servants is NT$30,235, in comparison to the minimum wage of NT$25,250 that private sector workers will earn next year.

In other words, civil servants are earning 20% more than private sector workers at base level. 

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What is not known, however, is the median or average wage that civil servants earn. 

Do you know that this data is not made public? 

There were only two sources I could find on this question. 

The first one was data from the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) which said that civil servants earned a monthly average salary of NT$63,167 in 2006, and NT$63,833 in 2007. In comparison, the average salary of public sector workers was only NT$35,725 and NT$36,318, respectively. 

Another source I found was from former Democratic Progressive Party legislator Lin Cho-shui. Lin also cited the average salary of civil servants as NT$62,167 in 2006, in comparison to the NT$36,126 that private sector workers earned. (This may have been obtained from the same DGBAS source. 

In other words, civil servants were earning almost twice as much as private sector workers in 2006 and 2007. 

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But there is no other data I could obtain from government sources. 

In fact, after I wrote about civil servant salaries in a previous article last month, the data from the DGBAS webpage has since been removed. It is surprising that instead of enhancing transparency, the DGBAS has responded by increasing the secrecy over civil servant salary data.

But I have saved a copy of the document, which is replicated below. The document is still accessible at archival links

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Why has this information on the average salary of civil servants been removed? 

When I discovered that document above was no longer on the DGBAS site, I wrote to the DGBAS and the Directorate-General of Personnel Administration (DGPA) for more information. The DGPA told me that it does not compile this data, while DGBAS said the data is not publicly available.          

As far as I am aware, there is no public data on the civil servant salaries or their growth since 2007. The civil servant I spoke to suggested I do an estimation instead. 

So, here’s what I’ve found based on an estimation. If the average salary of civil servants had grown at the rate of private sector workers, then it would have grown to NT$74,512 in 2020. Alternatively, since 2007, there were three public pronouncements to the increase in civil servant salary, of 3% in 2011 and 2018, and 4% next year. Accordingly, the average salary of civil servants could presumably grow to NT$70,429 next year. 

This is in comparison to the average salary of public sector workers of NT$42,394 in 2020. Based on this projection, civil servants would still be earning an average salary nearly twice as high as private sector workers. 

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But the larger question remains. Why is the salary data breakdown of civil servants a secret? 

Comparing Taiwan with other advanced countries with a similar GDP per capita, if Taiwan’s average salary vis-à-vis its cost of living were pegged to that of these other countries, then Taiwan’s average salary would be about NT$85,000 today. 

However, private sector workers earn only a regular average salary of NT$42,394 and when including bonuses and overtime, it’s still only NT$54,160. In other words, private sector workers are only earning only about two-thirds of what they should actually be earning based on the standards in other countries. 

Based on the above estimates of how much civil servant salaries could have grown to this year, there is still a gap between the NT$74,512 they could be earning and the optimal average salary of NT$85,000, though this data for civil servant salary does not include bonuses and overtime.

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Of course, it’s not publicly known to what degree the salaries of civil servants have stagnated since there is no public information on their salaries. 

Prior to the increase of 4% next year, the other increases since 2000 were apparently only in the years 2001, 2005, 2011 and 2018. This leads me to believe that salaries have in fact stagnated. (The minimum wage increase is included in the chart below in the yellow line to show how it has been similarly depressed.)

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It should be obvious that the similarly depressed salaries of private sector workers should not be used as an excuse to hold down the already meager salary growth of civil servants.

Instead of depressing the salaries of civil servants to let the salaries of private sector workers catch up, the moral thing to do is to continue to increase civil servant salaries, while increasing private sector worker salaries by a larger magnitude to catch up. 

As it is, workers across the board in Taiwan are earning stagnant and inadequate wages, and they should not have to tolerate low increases just because their salaries may be high only relative to other workers in Taiwan.

Note that under President Tsai Ing-wen, the minimum and average wages of private sector workers have increased by more than both her predecessors Chen Shui-bian and Ma Ying-jeou. Civil servant salaries have also been increased by a larger magnitude. (The salary increases for civil servants in the chart below is derived by adding together past increases under each presidency.)

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Responding to the increase in civil servant salaries, Lin Bo-feng, chairman of the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce, continued to complain that with the salary of civil servants increasing by only 4%, the minimum wage increase of 5.21% in 2022 determined at last month’s meeting of the Minimum Wage Review Committee is unreasonable. 

You won’t be shocked to hear that I think this is a highly disingenuous point to make. 

If civil servants are earning about NT$70,000 today, an increase of 4% equates to an increase of NT$2,800. But for the minimum wage worker earning NT$24,000, the increase of 5.21% equates to only NT$1,250, or less than half the increase for civil servants. For the average private sector worker earning NT$42,394, a 5.21% increase is still only NT$2,208. Even with a 5.21% increase, the increases for private sector workers will still be lower than what civil servants will be getting. 

Surely, business groups know this.

The National Federation of Teachers Unions (NFTU) also lamented that civil salary adjustments in other neighboring countries tend to follow adjustments in the private sector. While true (as we will show later), the reality is that civil servant salaries in Taiwan are vastly ahead of private sector workers. Until both the salaries are equal, using proportionate increases to debate the issue lacks context.

As it is, there is simply no data on the average salary or wage distribution of civil servants. Are civil servants earning an average of more than NT$70,000 today, or twice that of average sector workers? Are they not?

For the debate over civil servant salaries to make more sense, this data should be made transparent, so that we can engage in more reasonable and data-based debates over how much more civil servant salaries need to be increased to be commensurate with the cost of living in Taiwan.

The question, however, remains the same. Why has the data breakdown on civil servant salaries been kept secret? 

The transparency problems extend beyond the lack of disclosure. The statements about the increase were vague to the point of incomprehensibility. Premier Su said that civil servant salaries will be increased by 4% next year. To be more precise, what he meant was that the manpower budget for civil servants will be increased by 4% to NT$31.4 billion. 

But what does it mean for the average civil servant? Does it mean that the minimum wage of civil servants will be increased by 4%? Does it mean all civil servants will see their salaries increased by 4%? Does this mean that the median salary of civil servants will now be increased by 4%? 

No one knows, because the government does not release more data on this. In other words, there is no way to know how the government is paying the salaries of civil servants, to know their median or average salaries, or how their salaries are distributed by deciles.

But why should this be the case? This information is available for private sector workers, why not for civil servants? 

Taiwan’s citizens and residents deserve more clarity on how the government allocates its resources. 

So why is the wage breakdown not made public? One possibility is that the revelation of a massive gap would be to avoid the embarrassment of showing Taiwan as an international outlier.

If we are to compare the salaries of civil servants and public sector workers in Taiwan with that of other advanced countries with a similar level of GDP per capita, you can see that in these other countries, the salaries of civil servants and public sector workers are roughly on par. 

As far as I can tell, it is only in Taiwan where there is such a massive disparity.

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The chart below makes it clearer. In other countries, the salaries between civil servants and private sector workers differ by at most 20%, but in Taiwan, civil servants earn almost 80% more than private sector workers. But are civil servants in Taiwan twice as productive as private sector workers, or is the latter only half as productive? 

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The massive wage disparity between civil servants and private sector workers in Taiwan is therefore not normal. 

Given that both the salaries of civil servants and private sector workers have been depressed and inadequate for the cost of living in Taiwan, it is necessary for both their wages to be increased. 

Moreover, given the more severe wage depression of private sector workers, their wages should be increased by a larger magnitude to catch up with the cost of living.

The depressed wages of private sector workers should not be used as an excuse to hold back increases to the wages for civil servants. 

And the wage disparity should not be used as an excuse to keep the data on civil servant salaries secret. 

Instead, the salaries of civil servants and private sector workers should be equalized, and there needs to be a clear plan to increase both the salaries of civil servants and private sector workers to a level commensurate to the cost of living in Taiwan.

Premier Su said that as Taiwan democratizes, there has been greater demands for transparency. Indeed, the wage data of both private and public sector needs to be made more public and transparent, so as to account to workers and citizens in Taiwan. 

Workers across all sectors, public and private, should realize that the wage depression they face is a common struggle, and therefore find solidarity with one another to ensure wages can be uplifted to a level fair enough for the cost of living needs of workers in Taiwan.

For a start, the government needs to make data on civil servant salaries public. There is no reason for wage secrecy in a democracy.


READ NEXT: 10 Misconceptions About Raising the Minimum Wage in Taiwan

TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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