Bank workers mull group action against cut wages

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Bank workers mull group action against cut wages

Discontent over the government’s decision to trim wages for public officials and bank employees two years ago has begun to foment and will express itself in the form of strikes next month.

At the height of the global credit crunch, Seoul decided to slash wages by 20 percent to 30 percent in these sectors to free up funds to create more jobs for young people as unemployment spiked.

While financial institutions such as banks agreed to take part, new recruits who accepted the lower wages are growing more vocal as the months roll by.

“The longer I work, the bigger the [wage] gap with my seniors grows,” said a 31-year-old bank worker with the surname Kim. “The company has no plan to close the gap, so I am planning to do something about it myself when we go on strike in September.”

Kim’s coworkers are planning to demand pay raises when they join the nation’s two major umbrella union groups and the Korean Financial Industry Union next month by going on strike.

Kim said it was unfair to keep performing the same duties as other colleagues for a 20 percent lower wage.

At Kim’s bank, new hires in 2008 were offered 1.5 million won ($1,390) to 2 million won less than people signed the previous year. But the difference increased dramatically for those hired in 2009 compared to the year before.

Roughly 18,000 public officials were hired in 2009 at 297 institutions, while 6,400 employees at 34 financial firms also had their salaries scaled back.

Over the past two years, the complaints tended to be limited to gossip over drinks or through phone calls to friends. Now they are starting to appear in forms of group action.

The KIFU held a mass meeting on Aug. 6 for those who were employed in 2009 and saw a turnout of around 3,000 people.

But employers are unsure of how to handle the situation as cutting the wages of other employees could do more harm than good.

“We would expect major retaliation if they cut [other people’s] wages to shorten the gap,” said a union member at Kim’s bank. “The government should step up and normalize wages.”

The government is now considering minimizing pay rises to other staff to add balance.

Lee Cheol-woo of the Ministry of Employment and Labor said that the financial reason was the main, but not the only reason that wages took a hit in 2009.

“The salaries of public servants were too high in the first place. They were being referred to as ‘Jobs from heaven,’ ” he said.

“The wages at banks and public offices are too high,” said Kim Dae-ho at the Social Design Institute.


By Lee Sang-hwa [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]

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