Few reservists would benefit

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Few reservists would benefit

My elementary school son wants to be a cook when he grows up. But when he turns 19, he will have to take a physical examination and like most of his friends will have to consider joining the military. If he goes to college, he could push back conscription for three to four years, but some time in his 20s, he will have to comply with the national call.

Because my son hopes to become a cook and not work in the civil service, he would be excluded from any preference in hiring. The preference points system would benefit around 1 percent of soldiers seeking jobs in the government sector. How will the country compensate the remaining 99 percent for their service?

The Ministry of Defense sought a revival of preference points time after time after the Constitutional Court ruled that they go against constitutional civilian rights in 1999. A bill to revive the incentive for reservists has been sponsored by ruling Saenuri Party Representative Han Ki-ho and is now being petitioned by the Defense Ministry. It’s a wonder that politicians and the government think throwing extra preference points is the only way to compensate for and encourage military service even when the reward method has been ruled as unconstitutional.

The Constitutional Court deemed preference points unconstitutional based on two grounds. First, preference points in state exams infringe on the constitutional principle of equality: That there should not be any discrimination in hiring based on gender or disability. It’s not a matter of how many extra points are given. The essence is that any preference over those ineligible for conscription - largely women and the disabled - is simply unjust.

Second, the court decided that it’s unfair to give higher scores in hiring civil servants based on their military service rather than their performance potential and abilities. It advised the government to come up with benefits other than controversial preference points to compensate men for the military duty they served.

However, incentive points have been the only reward the government and politicians have been able come up with for veterans over the last 15 years. Under the revised system, applicants taking government exams with a two-year military service record would be entitled to a 2 percentage-point edge over non-veterans. A 10-percent slot would be reserved for them as a hiring quota. The government has extra quota for selective groups and purposes - such as promoting balanced gender ratios, more opportunities for people from rural areas and for those with disabilities. An extra quota for veterans could help the government avoid controversy over inequality.

But in the longer-run, job slots for women and the disabled population would shrink because government offices and the public-sector corporation would have to reduce the quotas for them in view of an increased proportion for exclusive placements. Additional hiring is offered to select minority groups such as the disabled and should not be applied to a male group that is mostly eligible for conscription.

Preference points are undesirable and unnecessary for many reasons. Endless arguments on the issue are also wasteful. The Defense Ministry should stop campaigning for a preference system and use its wisdom and efforts to seek other ways to reward veterans. Few among the reservists would benefit from the program anyway. As a mother, I sincerely wish my son and the majority of sons who wish to become something other than a civil servant will be equally compensated for their service to their country.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The writer is the head of the Center for Korean Women & Politics.

By Kim Eun-ju
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