Ending overdue wagesOverdue wages have neared all-time levels due to the protracted economic slowdown and ongoing restructuring in shipping and shipbuilding industries. According to the Employment and Labor Ministry, wage payment in arrears reached 947.1 billion won ($865.9 million) as of the end of August, up 11 percent from the same period last year. As many as 214,052 workers have not been able to collect their payroll, 12 percent greater than a year ago.
Overdue wages are particularly high in Korea. In other advanced economies, legal actions are taken before payments become delayed. Because job changes are easier in those countries, workers are less worried about being without an income when out of work. Korean workers cannot easily reclaim their dues or change jobs when their workplaces are in trouble. Social security also offers little comfort.
There are many employers that intentionally or habitually rip off their employees due to loopholes in the social and legal system. Those affected are mostly workers of small and mid-sized companies, females, foreigners, and young people.
Employers think casually about delaying payments to employees because of soft punishment. The labor law punishes employers that are behind wage payment with three years or less jail term or a fine of 20 million won or less. Because of other regulations, they end up walking away after paying 1 million won to 2 million won in fines even if they owe millions of won to their employees.
They also can avoid punishment if they settle with employees by paying them off a portion. It is how employers come to think lightly of obligations to timely wage payment. The government repeats the rhetorical warnings that it would reinforce clampdown on bad employers, but as data underscores, the improvements have not been made.
Monthly salaries are the only means for a worker to sustain life for his or her family. Overdue payment can ruin an individual and a family.
The government must come up with emergency measures so that those exploited by their employers do not end up empty-handed over the Chuseok holiday.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 8, Page 34