The Korea Herald


Labor groups slam BOK report on foreign care worker wages

By Lee Jaeeun

Published : March 13, 2024 - 14:59

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Labor groups have reacted with anger to a report by South Korea’s central bank that proposed to bring in foreign care workers and pay them less than the minimum wage.

“The bank’s suggestions of paying migrant workers cheaper than the minimum wage are discriminatory and anti-human rights ideas,” said Citizens‘ Solidarity for Securing the Publicness of Care and Realizing the Right to Care, a major coalition comprised of the country’s two umbrella trade unions, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, and 13 civic groups said Tuesday during a press conference outside the Bank of Korea.

“By ignoring the reality of care workers who are already suffering from severely low wages and poor working conditions and stigmatizing care work as ‘low-productivity work,’ the Bank of Korea is undermining the value of labor.”

Udaya Rai, head of Migrants’ Trade Union in Korea, also blasted the report.

“Even today, you are still treating people as cheap disposable items, machines that only do work,” he said. “The Bank of Korea is attempting to sacrifice and discriminate against migrant care workers in the name of national interests.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Jasmine Lee of the minor opposition Green Justice Party, a Philippine-born naturalized Korean citizen, demanded a formal apology from the central bank.

“This is a report that clearly shows the outdated level of awareness of workers’ human rights, and discrimination against immigrants and women in our country,” Lee said on March 6 at a press conference held at the National Assembly.

Last week, the Bank of Korea report proposed that Korea make it possible to pay foreign care workers less than the minimum wage, currently 2.06 million won ($1,570) per month, as part of a raft of measures to address population aging and labor shortages.

The bank claimed the wage policy would reduce the financial burden of care and encourage more Korean women to enter the workforce. The BOK reasoned that the high cost of care labor means that families often end up providing their own care, with the burden primarily falling on women.

In the report, the Bank of Korea suggested that the cost of care work would increase further amid a shortage of workers and the rapidly aging population. It also assessed that Korean hiring care workers for the elderly and children charged an average of 3.7 million won per month last year. This amounts to over 50 percent of the median income of households led by people in their 30s, and 70 percent more than the income households headed by those aged 65 and older.

However, South Korea is a signatory to International Labor Organization Convention No. 111, which prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation, so any foreign nationals in the care or other fields have to be paid the same minimum wage as Korean nationals.

Therefore, the report suggested that care workers should be hired directly by individual households, allowing them to be paid below the regulated minimum wage, based on a provision in the Minimum Wage Act that exempts “persons employed for housekeeping.”

The bank also proposed completely excluding the care work sector from the minimum wage system. Currently, Korea’s minimum wage system applies to all industries.