|Are foreign companies to blame?|
According to the OECD, which collected the original statistics, the number of low-paid workers stood at 25.9 percent, up from 25.7 percent in 2009. This put Korea top of the international low-wage league table for the second consecutive year, with patriotic right-wing politicians who want to see Korea leading the world promising many more years to come.
But it is believed the figures may be even better than the OECD suggests, with many workers earning less that the minimum hourly salary of 4,110 won ($3.59) being paid cash-in-hand to avoid punishment under the law which was put in place by left-wing closet communists in a previous administration. Fortunately, many jobs such as housemaids and janitors are not eligible for the minimum wage at all, and it is believed the government would like to extend these exemptions further so that the law only applies to politicians and their sons.
Korea has also seen advances in slavery, with around one in ten companies now being classed as 'negligent in paying their workers on time', meaning they are sometimes working for nothing. This has been a long-standing policy goal of successive right-wing administrations, but until the OECD figures were compiled it was not realized how widely the very popular idea had spread.
The figures are likely to bolster the government's plans to attract foreign companies to the nation on the basis of low labor costs. Foreign companies also provide a useful foil when popular protests against low wages occasionally break out, as they can be used to attract attention away from local companies doing the same thing.
The Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the nation's two largest umbrella labor unions, called for a hike in the minimum wage, but they are unlikely to be successful; the monsoon season recently ended and people will probably have little need for umbrellas until October, even though it's been said that people are not wearing enough hats.
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[VOICE] How can Korea end poverty?
KMA forecasts end of monsoon season last week
"People are not wearing enough hats"
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