These days, many Korean university students are taking on part-time jobs to earn extra money to cover their living expenses. There are many other students working as interns earning minimum wage or less. Therefore, for Korean university students, the minimum wage rate is an important topic. On August 5th, the Ministry of Employment and Labor announced the minimum wage for 2017 will increase from 6,030 to 6,470 won per hour. It’s a 7.3% increase. This slight increase in the hourly wage rate is expected to impact temporary workers and university students.
The first minimum wage system was implemented 1894 by the New Zealand government and its purpose was to protect the quality of life of workers by setting clear criteria for wage payments. Korea introduced a minimum wage policy in 1988 and the rate was a mere 487 won. It increased gradually over time and was recorded at 1,005 won in 1993 before it finally breached the 2,000 won mark in 2000. Over the last five years, the hourly wage has increased about 6% every year from 4,580, to 6,030 won by 2016. The minimum wage rate for 2017 will be 6,470 won, a 7.3% increase over this year.
The Dankook Herald (DKH) surveyed university students about the proposed minimum wage hike for 2017. 66 percent of respondents reported that their current hourly wage is between 6,030 won and 6,500 won, reflecting the 2016 minimum wage policy. However, 56.6% of respondents replied that some companies and business do not pay them the mandatory minimum wage rate. 77% were not satisfied with the newly announced minimum wage rate and all respondents thought their wages should be over 7,000 won per hour.
To hear more about the thoughts of university students on this matter, the DKH interviewed Cho Su-bin (26), a student with experience in a part-time work. At first, the DKH asked what he thought about next year’s minimum wage rate. “I heard the minimum wage has increased only 2,000 won over the last 7 years. As compared to the price of one meal, which is usually over 6,000 won, it is too little,” he said. The DKH asked him if the minimum wage policy is always adhered to by employers. “I have experienced work without pay during a probation period. However, in the case of my friends, a minimum wage policy doesn’t guarantee you a minimum rate, especially in Incheon, Anyang and Bucheon or at convenience stores or reading rooms,” he answered.
As the results of the survey and interview suggest, when comparing our rate to that of other countries and taking into account the reality of everyday expenses, this increase is still not enough. In 2015, our minimum wage was 5.16 dollars or less than half of the rate paid in Australia, who recorded the highest rate of the industrialized countries. You could argue that living expenses are different from country to country, and the real rates of purchasing power should be considered. However, if we look at the infamous big mac index, alongside the minimum wage rate, the picture becomes easier to appreciate. We could buy only 1.37 big macs after an hour of work at our current minimum wage rate. However, workers in Japan could buy 2.34 and Australians can buy as many as 4 big macs. This means when compared the wage rate relative to basic prices, our minimum wage workers are living under disadvantageous conditions.
|▲ Strike and protest for a $15 hour minimum wage at a McDonald.|
Recently, many countries increased their minimum wage. The recorded rate is more than 10,000 won in most advanced countries. In addition, some countries provide extra wages in order to live a better quality of life. These countries all had a higher big mac and minimal wage indexes than we do. November 2012, in New York City, one MacDonald’s employee requested a wage increase to 15 dollars per hour, or twice his wage at the time. At first, his co-workers laughed at him, but soon it became the focus of large protests in New York and as a result, his request was granted. Soon after, New York introduced plans to increase the minimum wage to 15 dollars per hour by the end of 2018. This movement soon spread to other jobs, states and even countries.
Germany already increased the minimum wage about to 10,600won last year and as a result, saw positive effects such as a growth in domestic demand and increases in employment. It also imposed a large penalty (about 670,000,000w on) for those who fail to abide by it. There are many other countries, including Japan, that have plans to increase the minimum wage to over 10,000 won. In the United Kingdom, a ‘Living wage' policy was introduced. The amount is decided upon after considering not only minimum room and board expenses, but also cultural and medical expenses, in order to ensure a basic quality of life standard. As a result, they increased their minimum wage rate to 7.2 pound from 6.7 and plan to increase it to 9 pounds (14,000 won) by 2020.
Many students work to pay for their living expenses, despite the poor treatment they often receive from employers. When we cost out our minimum monthly budget, including school expenses, transportation fee, meals, etc. it is over 100,000 won. The calculation show students have to work 8 hours a day for five days a week in order to break even. So while the minimum wage will increase, the rate is still insufficient. In addition, in some cases the minimum wage system isn’t adhered to and no overtime or graveyard shift rates are paid to employees working at night or for 6 days a week. Therefore, the government has to implement a policy that takes into consideration the effectiveness of the current system, as well as any required wage increase. It is the only way workers in Korea will ever see the rewards from taking on part time work.
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