[MINORITY VOICE] Disabled Persons Can Contribute Too

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[MINORITY VOICE] Disabled Persons Can Contribute Too

A friend asked me what I would choose if I could have a wish. I answered that I would wish to become a salaried worker and pay income tax. My stunned friend demanded to know why.

I am severely disabled and have never paid income tax. The trifling writing and lecture fees that I receive are all I earn, and always fall beneath the minimum taxable income. I have been unemployed for my whole life, even though I recently turned 40.

Recently, the Korean economy has worsened and corporate restructuring has become a serious issue. Statistics say unemployment has surpassed one million and there are signs that it will continue to increase. The disabled are always first in the firing line for lay-offs when a company undergoes restructuring. But the real problem here is the employment of the disabled, not the layoffs. The disabled are stagnating in a marsh of unemployment, with only 30 percent of the total disabled employed. Therefore, although the layoffs are serious, effective measures against them can be taken to increase employment. The problem of the employment of the disabled gets more serious as economic conditions worsen and corporate restructuring proceeds. In this period, the corporations tend to want to employ flexible workers with various capacities and abilities. In other words, corporations prefer able-bodied personnel who can do various kinds of work. The saying that people should "enhance their competitiveness" means that they should increase their capabilities as the unemployment rate increases.

In this situation, how will the disabled find employment? According to a source in disabled welfare, 50 enterprises each employing over 300 people have plans to employ only 10 disabled between them. Corporations want value for money. They want to hire people efficient in every sector, and are often willing to face financial penalties for ignoring disability quotas, which means the problems of the unemployed disabled will not be solved by creating incentives to hire the disabled. In addition, the Korea Employers Federation is demanding the revision of the law which obligates corporations to pay charges for not employing the handicapped, saying that these charges are inappropriate and have become simply a quasi-tax on corporations.

Big mistakes were made in deciding which corporations should have to follow the disability quota law. Effective countermeasures would be much simpler. Revise the law - which currently obliges corporations employing more than 300 people to allocate 2 percent of posts to disabled people - by expanding its application to small-size corporations. If corporations of over 50 employees had to follow this law, the employment quota for the disabled could be reduced to 1 percent. More firms could give employment opportunities to the disabled and the penalty charges corporations faced would be reduced. These policies would expand employment and create jobs. Another serious problem is that the reserves of the Korea Employment Promotion Agency for the Disabled are almost exhausted. The charges corporations pay for not employing the disabled are gradually decreasing every day, but employment opportunities for the disabled are narrowing as well. I want to ask the government what plans it has to cope with the depletion of reserves. If swift and sweeping measures are not taken, even more serious problems could arise. Measures to increase employment opportunities are urgently needed, but even the government has failed to set a good example by hiring at least 2 percent disabled people.

The public view of the disabled also needs to be challenged. Disabled persons must be seen not as a social burden but as an undeveloped human resource. If company owners continue to believe that they should be rewarded for employing the disabled, there will be no employment and rehabilitation for the disabled and no way of making my dream of paying income tax come true.

The writer is a lecturer at Sungkyunkwan University

by By Koh Jeong-uk

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