Subminimum Wage for the Disabled
Subminimum Wage for the Disabled
  • Reporter Song Sung-chan
  • 승인 2019.06.13 13:07
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▲Disabled workers protesting for abolition of subminimum wage
▲Disabled workers protesting for abolition of subminimum wage


In 2019, the minimum hourly wage increased from 7,530 KRW in 2018 to 8,350 KRW, which is approximately a 10.9% increase. The hourly wage of 8,350 KRW amounts to 1,745,150 KRW per month for full-time employment (40 hours per week with holidays included). The national minimum wage is in place to protect low-income employees by forcing the employers to pay at least the amount that is set by the minimum wage. Although the burdens of low-income workers and part-time students were relieved to some extent by the increase in the minimum wage, there is a certain group of people whose work condition has not been improved for a while. They are disabled workers.
According to Article 7, Section 1 of the Minimum Wages Act, “by the president’s decision, the workers whose labor capacities are noticeably low due to their physical or mental disability are subjected to be excluded from the minimum wage for one year with the approval of the minister of the Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL).” The MOEL determines whether the disabled are subjects of the minimum wage by measuring their performances through the Work Capacity Evaluation (WCE). In the WCE, the score of 100 is the work capability of an ordinary person. Those who score lower than 70 on WCE are excluded from the minimum wage. In Jan. 2018, the MOEL eased off the criterion for minimum wage by lowering the cut-off point from the score of 90 to 70. However, the change, in fact, had the complete opposite effect from the expectation. The amount of minimum wage qualifier actually decreased from 846 (9.3% of the applicants) in 2017 to 292 (2.9% of the applicants) in 2018. A congressman Shin Chang-hyun of the Democratic Party of Korea commented on the issue that “ there were circumstances where a worker with high working capability is used for the standard (score of 100) so that other disabled people would get lower scores or the disabled people were given unfamiliar tasks, preventing them from passing the cut-off point.”
Such phenomenon resulted in the increased discrepancy between the minimum hourly wage for the ordinary worker and the average hourly wage of the disabled worker. The 2019 national minimum wage is 8,350 KRW while the average hourly wage for the disabled is merely 3,100 KRW, which is less than half of the former one. While the national minimum wage increased as much as 3,140 KRW for five years from 2014 to 2019, the average hourly wage for the disabled workers only increased by 312 KRW for five years from 2013 to 2018. The hourly-wage of 3,100 KRW amounts to 647,900 KRW per month (assuming full-employment), which is insufficient to earn a living.
Such poor working terms for disabled workers is shameful considering that out of all the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) member countries, there are only three countries where disabled workers are excluded from the national minimum wage, and South Korea is one of them. However, it is time for South Korea to realize the effect of the minimum wage waiver for disabled workers and ban Article 7, Section 1 of the Minimum Wages Act.
The United States of America is another OECD member country to exclude disabled workers from its national minimum wage. In 1938, a wage waiver was initiated under the Fair Labor Standards Act in order to help disabled people find work. However, the result was similar to that of Korea’s status quo. According to Cheryl Bates-Harris, a senior disability advocacy specialist at the National Disability Rights Network, “what started out as a good idea many years ago has become a method to exploit people with disabilities.” However, unfortunately, the words of the opponents of the banishment of subminimum wage cannot be ignored; higher minimum wage for disabled workers may lead to their having no chance to work at all.
Just like the people of America, people have been voicing their opinions regarding the subminimum wage in Korea. On April 5, 2017, Korean Differently Abled Federation along with four other disability organizations met in the National Assembly Library for an open forum regarding the abolishment of subminimum wages. Although they argued that the disabled workers deserve minimum wages, they did realize the risk of abolishing the subminimum wage and discussed prospective solutions. One of the solutions was to prepare finances utilizing employment-subsidiary under the promotion of employment of disabled and occupational rehabilitation fund.
However, with all the efforts, nothing much has been done to improve the working terms of the disabled workers.