Massive protest in Taipei against govt's pension reforms

Protesters holding up flags and banners in Taipei yesterday. Organisers estimated the turnout for the three-hour march to be 250,000, but the police put the figure at only 150,000.
Protesters holding up flags and banners in Taipei yesterday. Organisers estimated the turnout for the three-hour march to be 250,000, but the police put the figure at only 150,000.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Hundreds of thousands of retired military personnel, police officers, civil servants and school teachers took to the streets yesterday to protest against the government's pension reform plans, which they denounced as unfair and humiliating to their professions.

The anti-government protest, the largest since President Tsai Ing-wen's electoral win in January, looks set to strain already fraught attempts by her government to engage an increasingly disgruntled group of public-sector pensioners, whose generous pensions are likely to be slashed.

Banding together for the first time to protest, former and current armed forces personnel and public servants demanded that the government stop blaming them for the problems with the nation's pension systems.

Retired teacher Wu Shih-hsin, 66, said: "We are not against reforms, but targeting our pensions belittles our sacrifices as public servants. It is our entitlement."

Retired Brigadier-General Yu Pei-chen, 49, who left the army last year, said: "There is a need for proper dialogue and discussion... But the commentators and some legislators are resorting to name-calling, making us look like crooks."

The protest took place even as a pension reform committee appointed by Ms Tsai is working to submit proposals by next year.

There were conflicting figures on the turnout for the three-hour march, with organisers estimating that it was 250,000. Taipei police put the figure at only 150,000.

Holding banners and flags, the protesters shouted slogans like "We oppose a smear campaign, we want our dignity" as they marched from four different locations, weaving through Taipei's main thoroughfares before gathering in front of the Presidential Office building in Ketagalan Boulevard.

Cheering on from the sidelines were legislators from the opposition Kuomintang and its chairman, Ms Hung Hsiu-chu.

Ms Tsai has made pension reform one of her top priorities, as the generous payments are becoming a huge burden on the economy.

In Taiwan, retired military personnel, teachers and civil servants are drawing pensions that can be nearly four times the starting salaries of many university graduates.

But with a rapidly ageing population and a slowing economy, many analysts say Taiwan can ill afford the pension schemes. Indeed, the pension fund for teachers, civil servants and military personnel is reported to have been in deficit since last year.

National Civil Servants' Association chairman Harry Lee Lai-hsi, one of the organisers of yesterday's protest and a strident critic of the reform panel, said: "We are just people who are protecting our nest egg. We want the government to hear our voices."

Reacting to the protesters, a Presidential Office spokesman said the implementation of pension reforms required consensus and expressed hope that both sides can "continue to sit down and discuss a concrete and feasible proposal".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 04, 2016, with the headline 'Massive protest in Taipei against govt's pension reforms'. Print Edition | Subscribe