Don’t dismiss public consensus
Two polls with contrasting results underscore the differing views on reform in government employees’ pension by the general public and concerned civil servants. A poll by the headquarters to fight for public pensions, led by the Korea Public Employees’ Union, showed that less than 1 percent approved of the reform outline by the ruling Saenuri Party. In a poll on a random sample of 1,000 eligible voters nationwide by the JoongAng Ilbo, 64.5 percent were in favor of the reform proposal. In the first survey, which 445,208 civil servants participated in, 98.64 percent said they were opposed to the change.
The government employees’ union protested at public hearings on pension reform that the Ministry of Safety and Public Administration sponsored in Busan, Chuncheon, Gwangju, and Daejon. The union for police officers took part in a seminar hosted by the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy and vehemently criticized the ruling party’s plan. The only civilian panelist at the seminar who spoke about government employee pensions was Kim Yong-ha, a financial management professor at Soonchunhyang University. He is the father of Suho, the leader of popular idol group exo.
Kim is now being framed as “pro-Japanese” on the Internet because he has been active in a civilian group alleged to be pro-Japanese. Kim filed defamation charges against netizens for spreading malicious rumors because he has been advocating for the government employees’ pension reform. The debate needs rigorous discussion but it seems impossible for it to take place in a calm atmosphere.
The majority of the public believes the government employees’ pension, which offers much more generous returns and benefits than other general public pension programs, cannot be sustained in its current form. The public is also angry that taxpayers are paying for the heavy losses to maintain the current structure. It is not the time to start fighting and the issue also should not be used for political gains or to win votes. Information and facts must be laid out, shared and discussed to draw up a reasonable compromise. Canada achieved pension reform amid economic hardships in the 1990s. It was possible because the issue was thoroughly discussed at public hearings. We must do the same and reach a democratic result.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 13, Page 34