Thursday, September 8, 2016

Pension commission a ‘circus’: teachers’ group

Pension commission a ‘circus’: teachers’ group

By Abraham Gerber  /  Staff reporter

National Federation of Teachers’ Unions policy researcher Wu Chung-tai, right, accompanied by union president Chang Hsu-cheng, speaks at a press conference in Taipei, announcing that the group is withdrawing from the Pension Reform Commission.

Photo: George Tsorng, Taipei Times

The Pension Reform Commission has degenerated into a circus of political showmanship, the National Federation of Teachers’ Unions said yesterday, announcing its withdrawal.
“We do not deny that past meetings of the commission have helped bring transparency to related information, but we do not see how it has been able to promote more accurate information or improve social harmony,” union president Chang Hsu-cheng (張旭政) said, adding that the commission had degenerated into “political theater” as Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) failed to restrain false remarks.
Chen chairs the commission, which President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) asked to search for a consensus on pension reform among interest groups prior to a National Affairs Conference.
“Because commission meetings are filled with inappropriate comments and false information, it has only served to create greater conflict and unease in society,” Chang said. “We do not have any expectations or hopes for what the commission will be able to achieve as it moves into substantial discussion.”
Union deputy secretary-general Luo De-shui (羅德水) accused the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of failing to present and defend a framework for pension reform, including moving to swiftly target pension “fat cats,” while promising to exempt relatively poor pensioners from benefit cuts.
“The DPP has created a situation in which we are forced into an arduous and thankless role and end up being doubted by our members,” he said, adding that his organization’s efforts to promote moderate reform had caused it to be “smeared” by competing unions.
His union — which did not support the massive protest against pension reform by former government employees in Taipei on Saturday last week — has attracted criticism from the National Federation of Education Unions, which has accused it of “selling out” teachers’ interests for advocating that retirees be required to catch up on some pension fund payments to help restore fund solvency.
The teachers’ group maintains that years of overly low contribution rates are a key reason the fund is facing bankruptcy and merit some “make-up” payments, while the education group maintains that government pension promises carry legal weight that should exempt current and retired teachers from ex post facto changes.
Lo said that his union would continue to participate in local “expanded meetings” and the National Affairs Conference on pension reform.
National Federation of Education Unions deputy president Peng Ju-yu (彭如玉) expressed “deep regret,” accusing the teachers’ group of “giving up halfway.”
Her organization would “fight to the end,” Peng said.
“Even if the process of finding consensus is extremely difficult, that is what a democratic society is all about,” she said, accusing the teachers’ group of withdrawing to avoid attracting criticism.
Taiwan Higher Education Union director Liou You-syue (劉侑學), who represents the group at commission meetings, said that while some commission discussions had proved inefficient and were affected by personal attacks, his organization would continue to participate to ensure representation in the commission’s final compilation of member views.
“My guess is that the commission will wrap up within a month,” he said. “Getting our views in [the final commission report] will give us a prominence that would be impossible if we just held news conferences or met privately with legislators.”

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