By Kim Rahn
The minimum wage for next year has been set at 4,860 won ($4.24) per hour, a 6.1-percent rise from this year.
Despite the increase, however, workers criticize the amount for being too low, saying Korea’s minimum wage is less than 30 percent of France’s when considering the consumer price index.
The Minimum Wage Council decided to raise the minimum wage to 4,860 won by 280 won at the plenary session which lasted from Friday to Saturday. That means that a worker will get about 1.01 million won ($880) based on the new minimum wage rate when working 40 hours per week.
The council forecast that some 2.58 million laborers will benefit from the increase.
The council is comprised of 27 members — nine each representing workers, employers and the public sector — and the wage increase was proposed by the public sector councilors.
Eight out of nine councilors representing workers boycotted the session — four each from the nation’s two largest umbrella unions, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). They haven’t taken part in the discussion since April in protest against the inclusion of a representative from the newlylaunched third umbrella union, the Korea Labor Union Confederation (KLUC), in the council.
The decision on the minimum wage was made two days after the deadline which was set by the law, as the labor and the management showed a big difference on how much the minimum wage should be increased.
The employers initially wanted to freeze the wage, while the two large unions proposed 5,600 won, a 22.3-percent rise from this year, and the KLUC pushed for 5,780 won. As they kept failing to narrow the gap, the public sector councilors suggested between 4,830 won and 4,885 won and the price was set in the middle.
Employment and Labor Minister Lee Chae-pil will officially announce next year’s minimum wage next week.
The two umbrella unions criticized the rate for being far lower than those in economically advanced nations, such as France and Japan, saying the slight rise failed to reflect growing living expenses.
While Korea’s nominal minimum wage in 2010 was 4,110 won (about $3.58) per hour, the real minimum wage was $3.06 when considering the consumer price index, according to the Korea Labor Institute.
It was less than one third of France’s real minimum wage of that year, $10.86, and about 38 percent of Japan’s $8.16. The real minimum wage in Britain was $7.87 and that in the United States was $6.49.