The tears of the merchantsOver 10,000 small business owners gathered in downtown Seoul despite heavy rain on Wednesday, demanding fairness in the minimum wage, which will increase by 29 percent over the course of just two years. “The government vows to make the economy fairer. The hike in minimum wage reduced incomes for small merchants like me and destroyed jobs for our staff. What is fair about this policy?” cried a 59-year-old shopkeeper from Daegu.
In a letter addressed to President Moon Jae-in, the owner of a sushi restaurant in Yongin, Gyeonggi, said that his mother, who went through cancer therapy, was helping out in the store because he could not afford to hire another worker. “Who can run a store when the employer has to pay the staff more than what he earns?” other shopkeepers complained.
Shopkeepers and small business owners are pleading with the government to have pity on them. They too are affected by the government’s pursuit of a policy aimed at increasing incomes for the common people. They said that the policy designed to increase incomes is causing their incomes to whither. The other measures the government has come up with fail to give any relief to mom-and-pop stores. The government offered to lower credit card service fees for merchants. But that benefit also does not apply to shopkeepers whose revenue is small and made mostly in cash. The cap on store rents would only benefit those running shops on busy streets or in popular districts. The offerings are hardly any comfort to corner shops that make money off feeding their neighbors.
What merchants need is different minimum wages based on business size, location, and nature. The minimum wage system should be revised to give exceptions in the hikes for businesses that have five or fewer employees. One restaurant owner doing business in Goyang, Gyeonggi, said he had to close his store to come to the protest. “If I don’t close today to attend the rally, I may have to close the business for good,” he said. It is a wonder why the Blue House, which prides itself on empathy for the working class, stubbornly ignores the desperate pleas from shopkeepers.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 30, page 34