A push to bolster birthrate

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A push to bolster birthrate

The government said yesterday that it will give women the right to ask for fewer work hours so they can devote more time to raising their children as part of Korea’s ongoing efforts to bolster its low birthrate.

The 2011-2015 plan to increase birthrates and deal with an aging population is meant to make it possible for women to maintain their jobs and take care of their family at the same time, the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs said yesterday.

Under the blueprint that will be finalized after a public hearing next week, the government will make it mandatory for employers to allow women who have children to work less, with a corresponding reduction in salary compensated by child care and maternity leave pay.

At present, employers can permit flexible working hours at their discretion, but they are not compelled to do so, making it hard for mothers to simultaneously cope with child-rearing and their jobs.

This problem has been cited as one reason for the country’s low birthrate, which could undermine economic growth potential and fuel social costs down the line.

Korea’s birthrate, which is the average number of children born to each woman in her lifetime, currently stands at around 1.15 babies.

This is much lower than the average tallied for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), where the birthrate is 1.71.

The ministry, in addition, said that maternity leave pay, which is uniformly set at 500,000 won ($430) per month, will be changed to 40 percent of a mother’s pay, with the government temporarily lowering state medical insurance coverage premiums for women on leave.

It said that to make up for the reduction in the workforce, companies will be encouraged to hire retired workers on a part-time basis, which will help senior citizens earn money.

The government added that it will push companies to set up in-house child-care centers and expand state monetary support for preschool educational expenses to many middle-class families, while paying for the high school tuition for a second child born to each family from 2011 onward.

Other benefits to boost the birthrate include permitting soldiers whose wives give birth to be placed on reserve and to give preferential interest rates for loans taken out by families with multiple children.

Government employees with three or more children will be allowed to work a maximum of three years after their retirement age.

“If the plan bears fruit, South Korea’s birthrate should climb up to the OECD standard of around 1.7 by 2030, which could create an environment more suitable for sustained growth,” the ministry said.

The government, meanwhile, said that elderly farmers can draw pensions by using their land as collateral as a means to supplement their income starting in January, while the government will take steps to create a comprehensive database on retirees to help them find part-time work more easily.

It said medical support for senior citizens will be gradually expanded in the coming years with more deductions to be offered for pensions people receive so they can pay less taxes.

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