Taiwan : Island of bosses

Not a bad article from Michael Turton…I recognize a lot of it from my own career in Taiwan.

Work concepts such as '辛苦 xinku、and '努力 nuli、in particular .

I have a long and diverse experience of working for Taiwanese organisations and avoid working for them completely now. I will only work for them as a last resort (there’s a few different reasons for this I can explain later if anybody is interested ).

Anyway - back to the overall sentiments in the article.

Agree ? Disagree ?


True, many people my age early 30’s or late 20’s start a business if they can (it does cost something and not stable so not everyone can do it). And yes , the old line construction companies are making a lot off the luxury house boom. As the story says companies pay as lowest they can with little to no raise. Look around here in Kao city and see what cars the boss/managers drive (very nice ones and their kids too). Sad to see old shophouse or eateries torn down, and a sky high homes built but it makes a lot of money it seems (all expensive homes with big ping)


Also some of the trends observed are common the world over (real estate boom, income gap growing ), but he notes some specific Taiwanese characteristics which does indeed still make it ‘the island of bosses’ (at this stage 第二代 2nd Gen ) .

Personally I think there have been definite improvements (labour regulations ) but nothing fundamentally has changed, there’s still a lack of professional management and openness and well…general meanness.

I also think at least half the problem lies with the old thinking of the old people in government and the public service here. Ministry of Education for example for not leading positive changes.

Will listen to other opinions , stats etc.


Yes, there are low wages among many companies. Meanwhile, there is also a major shift in attitudes of many young people who are supported by their parents…or simply do not want to be part of the “working masses”. My wife was in HR department of large Taiwan company (I worked there too). A big challenge was finding new staff willing to work hard. Not kill yourself working…simply put in a full days work with an attitude to actually contribute to company. In interviews the most common question…how many days of vacation? Next…how soon can I get promoted?
Many times the new staff would leave as their parents thought they were working too hard…or the staff needed more time for their international travel.


I agree with the general sentiment but you know my position already, I think these criticisms are slightly overblown when it comes to salaries. The work environment is a toxic swamp though, there isn’t even a sliver of silver lining there.


This is the biggest reason why I started my guitar business. I am sick and tired of TW bosses who will pay as low as they can possibly get away with, and you will not get any raises at all, regardless of how long you work for them. You only get raises if somehow the minimum wage rose above what you are currently paid. As a result all jobs pays at or near minimum wage. Why get a job with responsibilities when you are paid the same as low level retail worker, who has no responsibility?

But bosses the world over just wants to exploit laborers if they can get away with it. Before 40 hour work week people used to work basically 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. They used to hire children and pay peanuts because they could.

And employers are beating back those progress, little by little. And we are powerless to do anything about it.

I read the article.

What he said about bosses investing in a zero-sum game like real estate is backed up by the data.

But Taiwanese wishing to be their own boss is nothing new. It’s hard-wired into Taiwanese people.

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Do you believe that. It sounds like the typical look after a sick relative used as an excuse to quite.

How much is the employer paying?

You will find that most people, Taiwanese included, do not mind working hard. But what they do mind is hard work with poor pay.

If you are going to ask people to work in the hot Taiwanese sun all day, in the rain, in typhoon, etc. you better be paying 5000 per day, because no Taiwanese would do that, considering that they can get around 1500 a day working retail (that does not involve such hard labor). I think this is why there’s a construction worker shortage.

What most Taiwanese bosses do is that they don’t pay more for harder work, they just pay the same whether you’re shoveling dirt in the hot sun all day or checking out customers at 7-11, and no wonder people don’t want to work too hard.


This is quite true actually. I have a few personal examples. Most bosses and companies are like this . Thsy would rather a mediocre workforce than to risk the pay structure being broken.
There are exceptions of course.


Thing is, minimum wage elsewhere is literally what you’d get for getting the job with the least responsibility. And it goes up from there as you gain responsibility.

But in Taiwan minimum wage is what everyone gets, regardless of job description.

And before you think working for a foreigner would get you more… think again. Foreigners who own businesses are puppets, and their wife is the puppetmaster, and their wife dictates how much you get paid.


This is barmy.

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This is from looking at many different jobs.

Office work pays 30k, average 10hr workday, 5 days a week if you are lucky, 6 or 7 days if you are not. Pays per hour ends up working to about 160nt.

7-11 advertises 160nt per hour.

Other factory work I looked at, offers about the same wage. Around 160 per hour, sometimes 170.

If you got a salary, it pays about 160 per hour if you count up all the hours your boss “encourage” you to work.

Only time you can break that is to have advanced degree and work for TSMC or whatever.

Office worker? 160 an hour
Machinist? 160 an hour
Cashier? 160 an hour
Backhoe operator? 160 an hour.

I think you get the idea.

Machine operators get mormore. Not if they are foreign. sand truck drivers start at 40k salary, goes up to 80k. Excavator drivers normally get 2000 a day (7 to 8 hours). More if they have to live in the mountains during projects.

Ditch diggers about 1300 aday. Farm labor (unskilled) 1300 to 2000 a day. 1000 to 1100 for foreigners. Uusally with the house scam going.

You be a total moron and cut grass along roads and make 50k a month working normal hours. not fun work, but its there and 50k for a grade 2 education isnt bad for taiwan.

the issue with a lot of machinery operating jobs is the work isnt stable. Unlike farming or construction.

Not saying its good nor bad, but those are the numbers i see frequently.

Jail labor is 600/day. but thwy are useless usually. government projects with companies mostly.

An old Taiwan phrase, I heard thirty years ago . . . was “It is better to be head of a chicken, than tail of a dragon” … . OR …;You will never get rich working for someone else’ . . .

I believe that these sentiments are one of the engines behind the existence and growth of the local SME (Small & Medium Enterprise) phenomena in Taiwan. (Salary is one issue, but the ability to manipulate the enterprise’s accounting books - is another issue.)

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Yes. As Morris Chang noted, it sure isn’t because they have some novel idea.

Which is unfortunate.

Taiwan has two unicorns.

Korea, a country with no entrepreneurial tradition, has 10.

I mean my neighbor used to hire CNC operators and he’d pay 30,000 with a 10,000 monthly bonus for showing up on time for work every day (it gets deducted for tardies)

Minimum wage is what you get for unskilled work. I know plenty of skilled people that make much more than minimum wage. If anyone can do this job, than there is no point in paying you more.


One of the things I noticed is the number of efficient and intelligent people in low skill service jobs, for example 7-11 and courier delivery. In my home country the people in these sort of low skilled jobs typically have yet to attain adequate language skills, or there are other major barriers to them gaining more highly paid work.


I think those jobs may not be as low skill as we think, especially 7-11. Anyway I agree mostly but it’s possibly more a reflection of very low immigration rates.

But I do wonder why some folks keep working at 7-11 for so long when I see that they are so capable.