Public employees’ duty

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Public employees’ duty

Public employees’ anger and concern about the pension reform plan is understandable because it involves one of their biggest benefits. But they must not resort to violence and irrationality. Public employees are a leading class of our society, and they must demonstrate reason in solving problems and conflict. A crowd of hundreds of unionized government employees disrupted a public hearing last week planned by the Korea Pension Association on proposals to reform the money-losing pension scheme.

Then there was a violent posting on the home page of the civil servants union at Gyeongnam Provincial Administration, calling on members to buy guns to kill those seeking to tamper with their pension. Some are championing public pension reform as a way to boost the private pension fund market. Government employees insist they cannot accept the proposals because they were not included in the process. But they must remember they brought it up in the first place. Past reform attempts were derailed because government employees opposed them and designed their own, which barely touched any of the benefits they enjoy. The pension cannot be sustained, because it relies on tax funds to make up for ballooning losses. It has spurred debate about the fairness of benefits for government employees that are generous compared with the pitiful sum the rest of the population receives, even after the same level of contribution. Pension returns for government employees that had been 40 percent of what they earned in 1960, shot up to 76 percent in the early 1990s. Surviving spouses get 70 percent of what the retired public servants received, up from 40 percent. And government employees added perks to their pension plan, regardless of public sentiment.

Reform was attempted several times since 2000 amid criticism. What could be the biggest reform in 2009, however, kept most benefits intact. Bureaucrats have proved that they cannot be trusted to reform their own plan.

Government employees complain they should not be regarded the same as corporate salary-earners because their earnings are relatively small. But they are the envy of many citizens who must jump from one unstable position to another or forever fret about losing their job. We live in hard times that demand the sharing of fiscal pain. The violent opposition to pension reform can only build resentment toward public employees. We hope our public employees will be sophisticated and magnanimous enough to willingly shoulder their fair share of the pain, along with the rest of the population.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 27, Page 30

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