Restaurant owners protest profit-eating card fees
Thousands of angry restaurateurs descended on Jamsil Sports Complex in southern Seoul yesterday demanding credit card companies cut them a bigger break.
From 10:30 a.m., hundreds of chartered buses filled with restaurant owners from across the country reached the sports complex and by noon, an hour before the rally was to start, the main stadium was two-thirds full. The stadium can hold about 100,000 people.
The Korea Restaurant Association, which organized the rally, said about 75,000 restaurant owners attended the rally. It had hoped for 100,000.
According to the association, the card transaction fees for restaurants should be lowered to 1.5 percent from the current rate of about 2.5 percent to come in line with rates charged to other businesses, such as gas stations and department stores. The protestors were grouped by region from Gangnam in southern Seoul to Jeju Island.
“I traveled by airplane to come here and arrived last night,” said a restaurant owner from Jeju. “We have to lower the card rates to 1.5 percent. It’s not something I can accomplish on my own but something we have to do all together.”
“We are considering offering discounts for customers who pay in cash and we’re starting a movement to reject credit card payments,” said an official from the KRA. The association will submit a written request to the ministers of Environment, Employment and Labor and Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
In Korea, credit card payments also prevent restaurant owners from not declaring income to the tax department.
“We need to pay taxes and there needs to be credit card transaction fees, I understand that,” said a 63-year-old restaurant owner in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul. “But if people are using credit cards to pay for a 3,000 won ($2.50) meal, there’s not much left for me. All the people here today are respectable people. We want a peaceful resolution.”
Restaurateurs also asked for the government to lower the value-added tax on agricultural and marine products and ease restrictions on hiring foreign labor.
Predictions of lunchtime chaos in Seoul with so many restaurant owners heading to Jamsil didn’t come true.
“My boss went to the rally and told me to look after the store until he comes back,” said Kang Min-jeong, 31, manager of a Japanese restaurant in Anguk-dong, central Seoul. “Most of the restaurants in this area are open but as far as I know, the owners are all at Jamsil while employees take care of operations.”
Song Won-young, 36, who was having lunch at the Japanese restaurant with his colleagues, said he was “going to grab a hamburger if most restaurants were closed.”
Former Grand National Party head Park Geun-hye, former Representative and current Seoul mayoral by-election candidate Na Kyung-won and Representative Sohn Hak-kyu, chairman of the Democratic Party, showed up at the Jamsil Sports Complex to support the restaurant owners.
Park and Na held a meeting with 30 representatives of the KRA yesterday morning to discuss ways to resolve the issue. Park told the JoongAng Ilbo, “I am here today with the strong belief that this problem should be solved and to find out if there are realistic measures to take.”
By Yim Seung-hye, Sarah Kim [firstname.lastname@example.org]