School uniform industry resists price controls
More than 1,000 workers in the school uniform industry staged a rally on Dec. 13 to protest the government’s policy to lower the cost of school uniforms.
The protesters - consisting of manufactures, workers for subcontractors and distributors - accused the government of stifling the industry and blocking healthy competition.
In July, the Ministry of Education announced it would request parents’ associations and four major uniform manufacturers to set a maximum limit on the price of school uniforms. The ministry suggested every supplier comply with the limit.
The ministry said the limit helps families struggling with household budgets because of high tuition fees for cram schools. In a country where 95 percent of middle school and high school students wear uniforms, the cost of uniforms matters to parents. The size of Korea’s school uniform market is estimated to be 400 billion won ($380 million).
In its first decision in September, the ministry set the limit for the last half of this year at 203,084 won per uniform. The limit was calculated based on the average purchase price of school uniforms for middle schools and high schools nationwide, and an estimated annual inflation rate of 1.7 percent.
But small uniform sellers complained that the ceiling was too low.
“The limit they suggested is what we charged 14 to 15 years ago,” said Kim Dae-hak, who runs a school uniform shop in Gumi, North Gyeongsang.
“School uniforms are bound to be more expensive than typical clothes because they are produced in small quantity but are of different types,” Kim said, adding that follow-up services usually lasts two to three years.
The Education Ministry will also ask public middle schools and high schools to let parents buy school uniforms through group purchases from 2015 to save them money.
But the president of the main association representing workers in the school uniform industry said that the idea will lead to corruption deals between schools, distributors and manufacturers.
“If a school has the authority to make a deal with uniform suppliers, the suppliers will bribe school officials to be chosen as the sole supplier,” said Jin Sang-joon, the association’s president. “And if the government sets an upper limit on prices, suppliers will take less care about the quality of the garments and simply try to reduce the cost.”
The association vowed to go ahead with the rally unless the education authorities modify the maximum selling price, saying that the state’s intervention is excessive.
BY LEE HAN-GIL [firstname.lastname@example.org]