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Date: Wed, 1 Jul 98 12:39:06 CDT
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: KOREA: Working Women Are Hit Hardest by Company Restructuring
Article: 38109
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.12317.19980703001525@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** headlines: 165.0 **/
** Topic: KOREA: Working Women Are Hit Hardest by Company Restructuring **
** Written 6:47 PM Jun 30, 1998 by mmason in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 5:09 PM Jun 30, 1998 by labornews@labornet.org in women.labr */
/* ---------- Korean Working Women Hit Hard By Me ---------- */

Female Employees Hit Hardest by Company Restructuring

By Moon Chan-joo, Korea Herald, 1 July 1998

Rising female unemployment in Korea is bringing to surface the limited professional success that women have had and casting a spotlight on the nation’s strong patriarchal tradition.

Companies reducing their workforce have first cut their part-time, temporary, contract and low-level positions—which are staffed mostly by women—while some women have faced outright sexual discrimination in layoffs. On a professional level, wom en are expected to resign if they are earning secondary income so that men who are bread winners can stay on.

It’s a grave situation for women, said a spokesman for the Korean Women’s Development Institute. After two to three years there should be a reversal to save money but now (companies) need to reduce the payroll.

Although the rate of female unemployment has risen from 2.8 percent in December to 5.4 percent or 464,000 in April, according to statistics from the Labor Ministry, there have not been many complaints filed with the ministry.

We thought that under the business restructuring under the IMF, women would be chosen first to get fired so we set up a specific division in January to deal with it, said a spokesman for the ministry. There have been 117 inquiries since then an d only 12 have been actual complaints, he said. We believe that (sexual discrimination in layoffs) is possible but we cannot be sure given the low numbers of actual complaints.

Those 12 are for the cases where they intervened, said Lee In-sook, of the Women’s Employment Equity Association (WEEA), a division of Women Link (Yosong Minu-hoe). We can’t have the exact number but we’re sure it has increased.

Lee said that women who enter a company on the same level as men do not receive the chances for promotion that men receive and remain in entry level jobs. However, their pay scale increases to reflect their length of stay, thereby making them a tar get for layoffs in these economically lean times.

Women’s rights groups also contest the government’s unemployment figures because of the marginal presence of women in the corporate and business world, for which the Labor Ministry keeps unemployment data.

There are many who are not looking for a job because they know they can’t find one and many (have worked) in temporary jobs or in the ‘informal’ economy. We can’t count that, said Lee.

The actual rate should be 15 to 20 percent, said the KWDI spokesman, based on a comparison with a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) study on Japan.

Japan and Korea are in a similar situation and a BLS study shows that in the period between 1983 and 1993, there was a 2.8 percent unemployment rate but 11.3 percent if counting the ones not seeking jobs, he said.

The fact that a large proportion of women are in low-level jobs reflects the barriers that women in Korea face, barriers which include the precedence in families that the education of sons have over that of daughters and the preference that compani es give to the hiring and promotion of men.

According to data for 1995 from the Korean Women’s Development Institute, about 4 percent of decision-making positions in Korean businesses were held by women. The rate for the United States is about 40 percent, although even in the United States, women have yet to reach the top-level positions in significant numbers.

KWDI data for 1997 shows that female enrollment in colleges and universities is only half that of males. There were 904,722 men enrolled in four-year colleges as opposed to 463,739 women, and 447,183 men enrolled in junior colleges as opposed to 27 7,658 women.

A high percentage of women work in small and medium-sized businesses and the ‘informal’ sector, said Cho Soon-kyung, a professor of Women’s Studies at Ewha Womans University.

Some of the publicized cases of outright sexual discrimination occurred in January. LG Construction Co. issued dismissal notices to two women while they were on maternity leave. Samsung Everland called in only female employees to ask them to resign and Daewoo Motor Co. reassigned only men to their sales division.

These women contested their treatment to the Ministry of Labor Affairs and received their jobs back.

An Everland spokesman denied that any discrimination took place and stated that what happened was due to the national economic situation and a part of companies downsizing. A Daewoo spokesman said that out of 147 employees to be reassigned, 27 had been women, he said, but the Sales Division had objected and declined to receive them.

The government wants to head toward the American system of market forces, said Cho. However, we need an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) like America has. If just left to market forces, female unemployment would rise because the system for evaluating ability and performance are centered around men.