Kaesong workers will get help from the gov’t

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Kaesong workers will get help from the gov’t

The government unveiled on Tuesday new plans to ease the financial burden on South Korean companies with production plants at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, which has remained shuttered for more than a month amid continuing tensions between the two nations.

The focus this time is on job security for workers, some of whom were laid off as a result of the shutdown. Earlier measures focused more on supporting the companies themselves.

“In the process of normalizing the companies, we expect the employees to undergo many difficulties,” said Lee Suk-joon, head of the Office for Government Policy Coordination, who presided over the government meeting on Tuesday.

“We came to the conclusion that powerful measures equivalent to those provided for struggling regions was necessary to keep those with jobs secure and quickly help those who have lost their jobs find new ones.”

One of the key measures involves giving a maximum 650,000 won ($545) to each employee who takes a leave of absence from a company that has temporarily shut down. For those laid off outright, the government will offer job training programs and a monthly stipend of up to 1 million won while they get back on their feet.

For those with existing loans, the government will help postpone principal payments and extend the maturity date on loans. When the individuals succeed in landing a new job, the government will give them a bonus of 3.65 million won.

The government said it will create a special team consisting of 94 members dedicated exclusively to ensuring these measures are carried out.

To further support companies, the government said it will lower the interest rate on loans from 2 percent to 1.5 percent. Currently, a total of 80 companies have taken out 34.3 billion won worth of loans, and the government said these companies will be able to save 400 to 500 million won every year after the interest rate cut.

Companies planning to build alternative manufacturing plants in metropolitan areas will also receive more support. Under current law, companies were only able to receive government subsidies if they were planning to build plants in non-metropolitan areas. Now, the government will give grants to companies that operated in Kaesong and are planning to open new plants in metropolitan areas covering up to 3 billion won in purchasing costs - six times more than what other ordinary manufacturers received for building new plants in rural areas.

But a committee made up of Kaesong companies said they haven’t received any actual help despite the announcement of the government plans.

The committee plans to hold a rally today at Imjingak in Paju, Gyeonggi, near the North Korean border. Representatives say the rally will be peaceful and intended to push the government to offer more immediate and concrete assistance.

BY KIM YOUNG-NAM [kim.youngnam@joongang.co.kr]

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