Korea’s elderly risk untimely death at work

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Korea’s elderly risk untimely death at work

An elementary school’s field trip to Gwangju was going along swimmingly before their tour bus full of students hit and killed Mr. Jeong, 76, on Oct. 20.

The bus driver told police that “[the accident occurred] when the bus pulled into a [narrow] two-lane road. I did not see Jeong since he was right in front of the bus.”

Jeong was working as a crossing guard for school zones when he was killed.

Across the country, Korea’s elderly are dying on the job in surprising numbers.

According to a report by the Korea Labor Force Development Institute for the Aged given to Rep. Kim Seung-hee from the Liberty Korea Party, a total of 26 senior citizens have died at work since 2013.

Last June, in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang, three elderly employees in their 70s died after they were hit by a car. All three were working cleaning the roads of fallen leaves and litter. There was no supervisor present when the accident occurred.

Their deaths have prompted criticism about whether the government is too busy increasing the positions available for the elderly without taking into consideration how physically demanding and dangerous each job can be.

In particular, elderly workers who work as crossing guards or as street cleaners are sometimes required to endure cold or hot weather for a extended periods of time. These positions are normally not deemed dangerous for younger workers, but they can be for the elderly.

Some school zone traffic duty employees are even older than the man who recently died. Some workers are even in their 80s.

“People in their 90s are even able to do this job, as long as their health permits them to work,” said an official at a job agency that specializes in employing elderly citizens.

People that are 65 years or older can apply for job openings for the elderly provided by the government. There is no upper age limit for these jobs. The job employment agency conducts an interview during which the interviewer ensures that the applicant is healthy. If the applicants seem healthy, then they can be hired.

The government has focused on providing job openings for the elderly since 2004. With each passing year, the numbers of positions available for senior citizens increases.

This year, the governmental budget for providing about 513,000 jobs for the elderly was set at 1.25 trillion won ($1.11 billion). Next year, to provide 610,000 jobs, the budget will be set at 1.6 trillion won.

Senior citizens who take jobs offered by the government usually are poor or live alone and need the money to survive. Crossing guards are required to work a three hour shift and earn roughly 27,000 won ($23) for each shift.

The government’s policy that requires local government organizations to employ a set amount of elderly employees is not always welcomed by civil servants, however.

Risk always exists when employing senior citizens, as there are not enough supervisors to monitor potentially dangerous situations. There also isn’t a training program to educate elderly workers about how to safely complete their tasks.

“I do believe that the current government is fixated on increasing the quantity of job positions available for the elderly with a limited budget,” said a local government official.

“[The government] needs to stop deploying senior citizens to unnecessary jobs without even properly educating them about the position. Instead, [the government] should focus on creating job openings that will fill these elderly citizens with a sense of accomplishment. “

“We are currently considering reducing or eliminating jobs that could be threatening to the elderly,” said an official from the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

BY KIM HO [jeong.juwon@joongang.co.kr]
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