Institutional Caregivers Need SupportDespite Poor Work Conditions, A University Graduate Gets About 1 Million Won per Month
Advanced welfare states are expanding care services provided at home, based on the theory that it is better for care recipients to be served in their own homes or in their communities than in institutional welfare facilities.
The focus in welfare policies is shifting from building institutional accommodations to more community facilities.
But in countries like Korea that have inadequate welfare administrative systems to offer proper community care, institutional accommodations still play an important role. District communities do not have sufficient resources to provide adequate care to people with severe physical or mental handicaps.
The focus of government welfare policies is changing to place greater emphasis on offering community protection. Even so, the number of unauthorized welfare institutions keeps rising in tandem with the number of the elderly, children and disabled who are incapable of taking care of themselves. These people are being admitted to facilities offering only a minimal level of food and shelter.
The development of welfare facilities in Korea began with a focus on child care facilities, stimulated by aid from foreign governments and relief organizations to provide care for those widowed and orphaned by the Korean War and those from poor families. After foreign aid stopped in the 1970s, the Korean government started to manage welfare facilities from its own resources.
Government assistance continues at a low level, however, and the lack of money makes it difficult to offer even the most basic care to those admitted to welfare facilities. As a result, welfare personnel are forced to work without benefiting from welfare themselves.
They are underpaid and work under extremely primitive conditions out of a sense of sacrifice and social service.
Due to budget shortages, the number of welfare personnel working in child care homes currently reaches 59 percent of the legally necessary quorum, 62 percent for the elderly, and 65 percent for the handicapped. The government puts the minimal necessary number of welfare personnel at 19,000, but only about 12,000 caregivers, or less than 70 percent of the necessary number, are currently working at welfare facilities. Because of the personnel shortage, welfare workers have an average of 7.2 persons under their care, which is twice the number of persons to which their counterparts in Japan provide care. The workers and staff at social welfare facilities rapidly become fatigued because of their work under such harsh conditions.
Many of the workers and staff at welfare facilities have to work day and night to try to compensate for the personnel shortages in the system.
Caregivers at children? homes work 24 hours a day with no relief. Despite the rigorous working conditions, a university graduate receives about 1 million won a month, or about half the level of salaries that private sector companies usually pay, and at a time when companies are moving to introduce a five-day, 40-hour workweek.
Welfare personnel in Japan are beginning to work three shifts, and nurses in Korea, who have to look after their patients 24 hours a day as do welfare personnel, also work three shifts. The working conditions social welfare workers are forced to endure are clearly in violation of the labor standards law, and are an inhumane exploitation of labor.
Many of the staff at state-run mental health centers are also hired as temporary workers. They receive the same wages they were paid five years ago. These temporary workers are not only excluded from receiving bonuses and pensions, they cannot join public insurance systems.
In the facilities for the homeless, only 6.3 percent of the caregivers have workdays below the legal maximum, and 83 percent fail to receive allowances for working overtime. Because of the substandard working conditions, only 18 percent of the caregivers last more than a year in their jobs and 46 percent give up in less than six months.
Many social welfare workers uphold human dignity as their highest value, and they derive a sense of accomplishment and feel rewarded at the changes in those under their care and their families or even by a simple ?hank you?from the people they deal with. But young people are becoming increasingly reluctant to seek a career in social welfare, where jobs are difficult and leave practically no time for a worker? personal life. This is expected to become a major stumbling block in providing care at welfare facilities.
Belatedly, welfare personnel will work in two shifts beginning in April. Just as urgently needed are the introduction of realistic wages and various welfare policies and benefits for the workers, such as special allowances for working nights and on holidays and a pension based on the labor standards law.
The government should lose no time in putting into place the necessary measures. We need greater budget allocations to improve working conditions for welfare personnel and steps to ensure that social welfare facilities render sufficient specialized rehabilitation services.
The writer is a professor of social welfare studies at Catholic University of Korea.
by Chung Moo-sung