중앙데일리

Age-old hurdle on the job

Senior workers are snubbed, pushed out

June 11,2003
[First in a two-part series] A 31-year-old man who recently received his master’s degree in politics from a prestigious university is now preparing for the national exam to become a civil servant. When he finished graduate school, he tried to get an office job, but failed. In fact, he was not even able to apply for jobs in most cases because many companies restrict entry-level jobs to males 27 years old or younger for college graduates and 29 or younger for those with graduate degrees.
He is now focusing on the civil service exam, which also has an age limit, 32 or younger. “If I did something wrong, it was getting a graduate degree. I went back to school because I was unable to get a job during the 1997-98 financial crisis, the time I graduated from college,” he said. “I think I have lived an honest life. Now all I have is despair.”
Age discrimination is prevalent in the Korean workplace. Men in their 40s and 50s are easily kicked out of their jobs by their companies, which regard them as “aged,” and men in their late 20s and early 30s cannot even apply for many jobs because they are deemed too old for entry-level positions.
In the waves of restructuing since the 1997-98 financial crisis and in the absence of fair and objective evaluations, many companies have used age as a standard to fire their employees. Seoul Bank, during its merger with Hana Bank last November, fired 540 employees, according to a bank official. All of those dismissed were senior officials who had failed to become executives; all were between the ages of 52 and 53, the official said.
Korea Exchange Bank this year will fire ― or accept resignations from ― those senior officials who were born in 1948, an official at the bank said. Even though those affected are only three years away from retirement, the company forces them out by demoting them and giving them no work, the official said. “They may stay longer. But most leave on their own because they feel ashamed after such treatment,” the official said.
According to the National Statistical Office, the unemployment rate for those in their 50s was 0.8 percent in 1990. But it rose to 5.1 percent in 1998 during the financial crisis. The figure for this year was 2.1 percent.
Observers said early retirement, coupled with the recent trends of low birth rate and an aging population, will dampen the economic vitality of Korea.
According to the statistics office, the rate of population engaging in economic activities will drop from the current 71 percent to 55.1 percent by 2050.
For the younger generation, this employment problem is widespread. According to research by the Korea Labor Institute, more than half of all Korean businesses have age limits for entry-level job applicants. In general, if a white-collar male job applicant is more than 28.6 years old, he cannot even submit his resume, the research revealed.
The government follows the same practice. To take the national civil servant exam for a high-ranking position, applicants should be 32 years old or under. To take the exam to become an entry level civil servant, applicants should be 28 or under. “There are difficulties if an aged person comes to us as an entry-level employee,” a government official said.


by Special Reporting Team


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