On Friday, Jan. 13th, 2017, on the day when it snowed heavily, we, Korean Women Workers Association, had our annual meeting for the year of 2017 at Daejeon NGO Support Center. In the meeting, we talked about our new year plan as well as our achievements last year. We also elected our new leaders during the meeting! 



▲(From the left) Yongmi Kim (activist, Korean Women Workers Association at Gwangju), Myeongsuk Park (president, Korean Women Workers Association at Incheon / elected auditor), Seongyeop Lee (CPA / elected auditor), Jihyeon Na (president, Korean Women's Trade Union / elected deputy representative), Mingyeong Shin (president, Korean Women Workers Association at North Jeolla Province / elected deputy representative), Jin Kyung Bae (co­representative, Korean Women Workers Association / re­elected), Younok Lim (standing representative, Korean Women Workers Association / re­elected), Yuri Na (activist, Guro Educational Center for the Women Workers)



   Voilà! Let us introduce our new leaders chosen by voting in the meeting. Younok Lim and Jin Kyung Bae were re­elected as standing representative and co­representative, respectively. For the deputy representatives, we chose Jihyeon Na (chairperson, Korean Women's Trade Union) and Mingyeong Shin (president, Korean Women Workers Association at North Jeolla Province). Myeongsuk Park (president, Korean Women Workers Association at Incheon) and Seongyeop Lee (CPA) gladly accepted to serve as our new auditors. 



   Now, let us introduce our core projects for the new year! First, we would like to talk about Korea's gender wage gap, ranked the largest among the OECD countries. In order to help close this gap, based on our long­term strategy, we decided to take a variety of actions, such as strikes on International Women's Day, projects to raise minimum wage, and protests against gender earnings inequality.


   'Hatred' is a key word to interpret main social issues in Korea during the last couple of years. The less­privileged, including women and even the victims of a national tragedy became the easy targets of hatred. Especially last year in Korea, hatred for women was the subject of heated debate. Related to this debate, we remember such major issues as a murder case of a young woman at Gangnam Station and social media users' exposure of sexual  violence still rampant in various fields in Korean society. Facing these issues, Korea women do not suppress their anger any more. Now they try to make their voice heard in a whole society, seeing their everyday lives and experiences from a feminist perspective. 


   However, unfortunately, the issues of 'women's work' are not so much standing out amongst these vehement feminist debates. How could we help bridge the gap between the issues of feminism and women's work? In order to show to the public how closely these two are connected in reality, we are designing a nationwide lecturing tour and rallies to support women workers' strikes, along with a campaign named 'Math to Make a Difference'. 



To Make a Difference, Let's...

  (+) Raise the Minimum Wage / (-) Reduce the Working Hours / (÷) Share the Care Work / (×) Multiply our Respect for Labor



   In 2015, we decided to change ourselves to be an organization for our members and people, not just for our activists and projects. This is our decision to become more open to the public, instead of making one­way relationship with them. Our project 'Vision for Our Future', which we have worked on since 2015 to put this decision in action, has helped us to get a clear understanding of who we are and what we should do to better ourselves. Below are our main tasks to realize our vision for the future; more actively sharing and communicating with our members and the public, making secure our core values, and strengthening our leaders' ability. 



   To reach these goals, today we announced that we would try our best to realize our vision 'Change and Development for the Women Workers', as well as to help our activists and members educate themselves on the issues of women's work, with the help of our education committee.


   So far, we have introduced to you our leaders and plans for the new year, all decided at our 25th annual meeting for the year of 2017. We hope you'll like them. After the presidential impeachment motion was approved last December, Korean society has been in the midst of chaos. In addition, this year, we are expecting such weighty issues as the early presidential election. This is rocky time, but together, we will happily get over all these challenges!




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 'Nobody wants to do this.'

 'My work is not considered valuable by the society.'

 

 Could there be more bitter words for workers? In response to the question 'Why is your job a low-wage job', 35% of the voucher care workers who responded to the survey said, 'Nobody wants to do it and is not considered valuable by the society'.

 

 The Ministry of Health and Welfare has assured that service users who are socially disadvantaged can obtain options through vouchers and that service providers will compete with each other to improve the quality of care services. However, the voucher system introduced in 2007 and implemented for the 10th year does not consider workers who provide care services.

 

 The voucher system was introduced by the government in 2007 to ensure the choice of service users, to manage service providers and to improve service quality. In addition to the fact that the satisfaction of service users is not as high as the expectation of the voucher system, serious problems are raised in many respects such as care workers, service providers, and building self-reliance of local social services.

 

 The Korea Women Workers Association and Korea Caring Cooperative Council conducted a research and held a forum to investigate the current status and problems of service delivery using the market mechanism through the Survey on Labor Practices of the Four Social Services Vouchers, and propose policies and practical improvements. The objectives of the research include: i) review of the characteristics of each of the four voucher programs (elderly care service, disabled activity support service, home care visit service, and maternal newborn health care support service) ii) evaluation of the effectiveness of the voucher program by services and organizational types (validating the consistent claim of the pro-voucher), iii) investigation of the actual condition of working conditions of care workers participating in the voucher program, iv) examination on the sustainability of the voucher program, v) proposal for policy improvement, better working conditions of care workers, awareness-raising for the beneficiaries.

 

 

 

Reality of voucher care worker, ‘total crisis’

 

 How exactly is the wage of the voucher care workers computed? by what process? The answer is 'No one knows.'

 

 A gap appears from the point how service providers and care workers perceive the amount of wage. According to the agency's response, the average hourly wage for the Four Voucher care workers is 7,259 won. However, according to the response of care workers, the workers of the profit organization receive 7,018 won per hour on average, while the nonprofit care workers receive an average of 7,118 won per hour.

 

 One can think that the wage of care work is at least above the minimum wage. The truth is, however, average pre-tax wage of care workers is only about 870,000 won. To understand this point, we first need to look at the nature of care work through the voucher fees.

 

 It is very difficult to know how different the methods for deciding wages are for each of the four vouchers and how what exactly the differences are. The basic hourly wage of workers, various benefits, retirement allowance, the share of the providers for 4 major social insurances and operating expenses of the institutions are all to be covered by the fees provided by the government. The reason why the perception of the wages of institutions and workers appear different is the structural condition that leads to lack of coherence and transparency.

 

 Is the statutory allowance being properly paid? No. 52.6% of regular employees and 42.1% of irregular workers receive weekly holiday pay. The rate of payment for annual leave and overtime allowance is also low. Only 52.6% of regular workers and 36.8% of irregular workers receive annual allowance. In case of overtime allowances, 44.7% of regular workers and 28.9% of irregular workers are getting paid.

 

 In addition, care workers who provide services through voucher schemes are suffering from chronic employment insecurity. The voucher program is suspended in case of hospitalization or death of the service users or replacement of service provider or institution. It is often the case that an employment contract is terminated automatically. Even if an employment contract is maintained, the worker is likely to work without getting paid. In the first place, the contract period itself is not long enough. The average duration of contracts for voucher care workers ranges from six months to one year.

 

 The difficulties that care workers face in providing services are not just low wages and job insecurity. Offering various options to the service users should be seen as a positive aspect, but sometimes it is difficult for the agencies and workers to refuse the requests of the users who want 'service' outside the scope of the contract such as buying alcohol. The situation is hard to mediate because agencies and workers could be replaced by the service use after refusing an unfavorable request.

 

 As seen above, the reality of the voucher care workers deserves to be called a 'total crisis'. About 35% of care workers who responded to the survey said low social awareness of care work is the primary reason for low wage of the work. The voices of field workers tell us that care work itself is undervalued regardless of the voucher scheme.

 

 It is not surprising or unexpected that the needs for care work will increase since the society is rapidly turning into an aging society. The opinion of the 35% of the respondents on how nobody wants to do care work and how the society doesn’t see the value of the work might have to be regarded as a warning message rather than outpourings of their agonies.

 

Care workers work to make a living

 

 If so, what steps should be taken to overcome the overall problems of the current voucher system? Yoon Jung-hyang, Researcher, proposed a way to integrate and unify the resources of care services by combining long-term care insurance and voucher schemes to secure the financial resources of voucher service. Disclosing the method to calculate fees and supporting personnels with governmental grant were proposed as solutions.


 



 It was also argued that the method of calculating fees of services should be formulated disclosed for review. Yoon also pointed out that raising the wage level of care workers is an important issue. Considering that the majority of care workers who responded to the survey chose care work to make a living, the current wage of voucher care workers is insufficient to meet the needs of the workers.

 

 Because of the nature the care work, care workers suffer from constant job insecurity, which can be seen from irregular working hours and high turnover rates. This makes low wages more problematic for care workers. We need to stabilize the employment by making it possible to maintain the labor contract even if the job is interrupted before termination, and to ensure a certain level of wages even when a worker takes a leave.

 

 Solving the problems of job insecurity and low wages is not enough. It is necessary to seek ways to overcome the overwork of caring workers by categorizing types of the work for wage calculation and running a program to raise awareness of service users. Local governments should take steps to improve the working environment by providing stable jobs to care workers and by creating psychological healing programs.

 

 At the same time, it is necessary to strictly ‘qualify’ the service providers and introduce a service provider rejection system so that the care service can maintain a certain level of quality. In order to check the situation of the service users, professional managers should be put into the field.

 

 The Secretary-General of Institute of Health and Welfare resources, Jang Bo-hyun encouraged the audience as a panelist by saying, "We can not achieve anything if we don’t act", "We have to act together in solidarity." Song Yoo-Jeong, Chair of the Policy Committee of Korea Caring Social Cooperative, urged for integration of social insurance system despite short-term difficulties and emphasized the importance of strict monitoring to make sure only the agencies who have concerns for society can survive.

 

 

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 Half of the 8.5 million women workers in Korea are irregular workers. The wage of non-regular female workers is only 35.4% of the regular male workers' wages, and the gap in average monthly wage is the largest among OECD countries. The same applies to the minimum wage, which is supposed to ensure the minimum standard of living. Out of 2 million workers who are paid below the minimum wage, 64% are women and most of them are irregular workers.

 

 Because they are female, they are temporary workers and they are paid low wage because they are temporary workers. Because women are employed with low wage, a vicious cycle continues.

 

 Women's labor has always been underestimated. Types of businesses and jobs are limited for women and only marginal tasks are assigned to women. In particular, care work, which women have been mainly doing, is more devalued than others.

 

 With this reality, the administration of Park is expanding only part-time jobs, in the name of eliminating career cuts and increasing the employment rate of women. As a result, the quality of women's employment is getting worse and the domestic work and child-rearing are regarded as women's work while demanding the balance between work and family only to women.

 

 In schools where equality should be taught, irregular positions are filled by women workers. Paying about half of the wage of regular workers, the schools require high-intensity labor to female workers. Basic livelihood is not even secured because the workers are not paid during summer/winter vacation periods.

 

 Even though the state is responsible for the care work, private sector has taken the business without concerns for the public. Serving as on-call-workers and part-times, the workers are exposed to a precarious situation where they can lose their job by a word of the employer. Especially, the assistants for people with disabilities are paid below minimum wage.

 

 The situation is not different for workers with indirect employment such as in the industry of cleaning services. Workers hired by indirect employment, which mostly consist of older women workers, are usually forced to renew their contracts with other users every year. Wages are also as low as the minimum wage level. In recent years, some employers paid even less than the minimum wage by reducing work hours for the same amount of work to increase the intensity of the labor. Although the guidelines for management of public sector services stipulate the employment stability and the standard price for the service, they are useless in the field.

 

 In order to resolve discriminatory low wages of these women, the minimum wage should be raised first. Even though the minimum wage is the least of compensation for the work, it becomes the standard for the wage of female irregular workers. Raising the minimum wage above 10,000 won is the fist step to ensure security of basic livelihood and the social safety net that can protect female irregular workers from the worst situation. The government should address root-causes of discriminatory practices towards irregular workers and female worker starting from the public sector.




 We are workers who are entitled to respect from all. We are daughters of this land who have the right to live as a human being without discrimination.

 We urge for following changes and hereby adopt a resolution to fight until our demand is met.

 

 First, raise the minimum wage above 10,000 won for living!

 First, eliminate the low wages from the public sector!

 First, respect women's labor and ensure equal pay for equal work!

 First, eliminate discrimination against irregular workers!

 First, we oppose different application of minimum wage by industry!

 


June 24, 2016

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