Don’t push them over the edge

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Don’t push them over the edge

 The protracted Covid-19 crisis is pushing the self-employed to the edge. At least three deaths have been reported among the self-employed who had chosen to end their lives after agonizing hardships. The cries of self-employed must be heard and addressed immediately.

A man in his 50s who had run a bar in Wonju, Gangwon, was found dead at his home. Earlier a woman in her 50s who ran a beer pub for 23 years in Mapo-gu, Seoul, also ended her life as sales fell to one third from pre-Covid times after paying the last salary to employees from her single-room deposit. A fried chicken shop owner in Yeosu, South Jeolla, also left a death note that he had been anguished by financial burden.

According to a federation of entertaining venues, it has received reports that eight of its members across Seoul, Gyeonggi, Daejeon, South Gyeongnam and Gangwon have taken their own lives. An emergency headquarters of the self-employed nationwide has been reported of 20 deaths by suicide.

The 7 million self-employed have been hard-hit by steep minimum wage increases under the Moon Jae-in administration. The Covid-19 outbreak and near two-year-long social distancing rules that restricted their business hours have aggravated their woes. According to the Korea Economic Research Institute, sales of the self-employed have shriveled by 11 trillion won ($9.4 billion) over a year. The Association of Micro Enterprises said the self-employed have become awash by more than 66 trillion won ($56.3 billion) in debt over the last 18 months and 453,000 have closed businesses.

Despite a string of tragic news, the government has been lukewarm in coming up with measures.

Unlike Japan, France and others, the Korean government has been churning out aid in small numbers. It should have used some of the money it gave out to nearly all people except the top 12 percent for small merchants and the self-employed who have been hardest hit.

The harsh restrictions on business operating hours and a strict cap on the number of people who can dine together must be revised based on scientific grounds. The curb on head count caps in eateries for vaccinated people must be eased.

The Moon government has been soft on irregularities of the military Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, and yet it has been relatively negligent on the mom-and-pop store owners who lack collective force. The government must turn its full attention to the woes of the self-employed.
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