Kickbacks rampant in driver hires

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Kickbacks rampant in driver hires

A 45-year-old tax driver, Gong, went looking for a job as a bus driver in January. Getting one turned out to be a quite competitive undertaking; there was a glut of applicants seeking the job because it offered better-than-average wages and job security until retirement age, something that cannot be taken for granted these days.

Gong agreed to a backdoor deal to get put on the payroll, working with a manager of a bus company in Seoul. The manager demanded 3 million won ($2,800), saying 2 million won was for him and the rest for a worker at the company’s personnel office.

After thinking the matter over, he gave the money to the manager and was hired as a driver of that bus company a few weeks later.

“I had no choice but to give the money, because the middleman told me that many people like me were seeking the job,” Gong told the JoongAng Ilbo. “After I joined the company, my coworkers told me that many people had paid more than 3 million won to be hired.”

Corruption in recruiting for Seoul’s city bus drivers seems never to end. Company managers and labor union leaders at bus companies are receiving kickbacks in return for helping people get hired as drivers.

The Seoul Southern District Prosecutors’ Office has arrested a 45-year-old local bus company boss for receiving 3 million won to 5 million won each when he hired drivers.

A 57-year-old union officer at a bus company was booked without detention by the Dobong Police Precinct for receiving 26 million won in kickbacks from four people for helping them get their jobs.

Driving a bus has become a popular job because working conditions, especially wages, are quite good. The average salary for a driver with three years experience or more is 41 million won, which is twice the average income of a taxi driver.

In 2004, the Seoul Metropolitan Government revised its management of city bus lines to improve working conditions.

Under the new system, bus companies’ business transparency has been improved because the city government manages routes, bus intervals and the total number of buses being operated, while also overseeing the calculation of fare revenue and ensuring that drivers are paid on time both in wages and severance payments when they retire or resign.

One cause of the deep-rooted corruption is that bus companies do not need to hire drivers regularly. The total number is almost stable, so only retiring drivers need to be replaced every year.

Only 639 drivers were hired by 66 city bus lines last year; there are about 16,000 bus drivers in the city.

“In such circumstances, officials in charge of hiring people have huge power,” a bus driver named Park, 46, told the JoongAng Ilbo.

“It is very hard to crack down on those irregularities because it is hard to expect people giving bribes report their own corruption to the police. There are very few drivers reporting such problems, and the ones that do are all fired by the company later.”

Labor unions allegedly play a leading role in the kickbacks as well. When someone asks a labor union leader for help and the labor boss passes along a recommendation to the company, the regulations say the company must consider that “advice” during the recruitment process. Kickbacks, then, are often offered and accepted.

“Some labor union officials take 30 to 40 percent of the kickbacks given by a job seeker in collusion with company managers,” a bus driver surnamed Jeong, 57, told the JoongAng Ilbo.

“The current recruitment system doesn’t allow the city government to oversee the hiring process, a role that they should have,” said Professor Kim Pil-soo of the Department of Automotive Engineering at Daelim University.

BY LEE SEUNG-HO [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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