Controversy erupts over different minimum wage for foreigners and seniors

A labor union protests differential applications of minimum wage in front of the National Assembly in Yeouido, Seoul. Korea Times file

Proposals regarding varying applications of minimum wage, particularly concerning specific groups such as foreigners or seniors, have sparked controversy as the process to determine next year’s minimum wage officially began.Due to repeated proposals for varying minimum wages, experts are voicing concerns about the potential long-term negative impact on the entire labor market.During a meeting to review recent discussions on public welfare held on Thursday, President Yoon Suk Yeol proposed a plan to employ foreign students and marriage immigrants in household roles, offering wages lower than the legal minimum wage.Yoon argued that this strategy could potentially create job opportunities for approximately 163,000 foreign students and 39,000 married immigrants currently living in Korea, specifically within the household and childcare sectors.He also anticipated that a flexible market, unrestricted by minimum wage regulations, could develop within these employment sectors.A lack of time for childcare and household chores is often cited as a contributing factor to Korea’s declining birthrate. As an initiative to tackle housework and child care, employing foreign workers is continuously being mentioned.This is not the first time such differentiated wage proposals have surfaced.

The Bank of Korea suggested paying foreign caregivers wages below the legal minimum of 9,860 won ($7.29) per hour in a report on March 5.Labor groups strongly opposed this proposal, fearing it would worsen the situation of low-wage caregivers, which is already precarious.Meanwhile, differentiated minimum wage proposals extend beyond foreign workers in housework and caregiver roles.It has come to light recently that 38 members of the Seoul Metropolitan Council introduced a proposal in February to provide wages lower than the minimum wage to people aged 65 and older. This proposal is aimed at revitalizing job opportunities for senior citizens within the context of an aging society.Yun Ki-sup, a Seoul City councilor affiliated with the PPP, explained that considering the trend where employers tend to favor younger individuals under the uniform minimum wage, it is challenging for seniors to secure jobs.Given the challenges, Yun and other city council members agreed to suggest a proposal to exclude seniors from the minimum wage requirement. Experts warn that these proposals could have adverse effects on the labor market. They argue that minimum wage laws exist to protect workers.“The minimum wage itself was introduced to ensure basic working conditions for all. However, differentiating it based on age and nationality goes against its original purpose,” said Shin Kwang-yeong, a professor of the Department of Sociology at Chung-Ang University.

Shin also warned that the difference in minimum wage can deepen discrimination, especially in the labor market.“Implementing varying minimum wage rates could result in discrimination against seniors and foreigners, presenting a conflict with anti-discrimination laws,” he said.Lee Joo-hee, a professor of the Department of Sociology at Ewha Womans University, also expressed concerns about the potential for these proposals to fuel a vicious cycle in the labor market. She stressed that the creation of low-wage jobs is not a viable strategy for revitalizing specific job sectors or employment of seniors.“Persistently hiring low-wage workers can lead to encroachment of other groups of people who are not foreigners or seniors,” she said.“It can also be used as a rationale that legitimizes wage discrimination in a range of ways without proper protection for the workers.”She also emphasized the critical role of education and training in revitalizing job opportunities for seniors, pointing out that there is a significant disparity between the skills possessed by the elderly and those demanded by contemporary society.“Rather than pushing for employers to hire seniors at reduced wages, the focus should be on enhancing the competitiveness of seniors in the job 스포츠토토존 market through digital education,” Lee said

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