Recession Layoffs Highlight Gender Inequality in South Korea
A tally by the National Statistical Office shows the number of employed men stood at 13.40 million in January, down 19,000 compared to a year ago, while the number of employed women stood at 9.46 million, down 84,000 over the same period. This means that 82 percent of the jobs lost over the past year were held by women.
Among women who lost their jobs, those in their twenties and thirties were hit hardest. A total of 98,000 women between 20 to 29 years-of-age lost their jobs over the past year, while 87,000 women between 30 and 39 became unemployed. Overall, a total of 185,000 women in those age groups became jobless. A total of 25,000 women between 15 to 19 years-of- age lost their jobs, while those between 40 and 49 fared better with no jobs lost. What’s interesting is that 110,000 women between the ages of 50 to 59 found jobs. Young women, who are raising children yet supposedly experiencing the most productive years of their careers, have experienced most job losses. In contrast, there has been a rise in the number of older women who have sent their children off to college and once again entered the job market.
As economic slowdown intensifies, a growing number of companies are considering female employees for layoffs first. In particular, pregnant women are being forced to take long-term maternity leaves, which are often tantamount to being made redundant, while in a number of cases female workers are being targeted for early retirement. The number of women on maternity leave applying for child support payments from the government has risen from 21,185 in 2007 to 29,145 last year, up 37.5 percent.
Women facing the greatest threat of layoffs are temporary workers with very few work benefits. In Korea, 42.1 percent of employed women are temporary workers. That’s higher than the ratio for men, which is 31 percent. Temporary female workers are often employed as clerical assistants, saleswomen or cashiers in small stores or restaurants, sometimes doing menial labor as cleaners and washers. On average, their salaries are only 61 percent of their male equivalents, putting Korea in last place among the member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development when it comes to wage differences between genders. Women who have been eking out a living in marginal jobs are becoming the first to be thrown out.
It is hypocritical to see businesses pressuring pregnant women and those on temporary contracts to leave, while those same businesses say they are voluntarily slashing salaries so they can hire more workers to help the economy. Sunday marks the 101st International Women’s Day. It is simply cowardly and embarrassing for our society to go around calling for gender equality, while picking out women first for layoffs as the economic crisis worsens.