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[Opinion] Workers’ Woes

Posted April. 01, 2006 03:00,   


I remember reading a book in which the author listed three pleasures of being a salaried worker: going sightseeing while traveling on business, eating good food during lunch, and playing while getting paid. The book suggests that the life of a salaried worker can be fun.

During the foreign currency crisis, small-business owners greatly envied salaried workers who were able to survive the tough time with nothing other than thick faces and cunning wit. But for those who want to get back at their bosses by outlasting and outranking them in the company someday, tough times are headed their way, especially with recent “tax-bomb” threats.

Salaried workers have been harassed by tax increases since the year’s start. In an effort to relieve the much-advertised problem of economic polarization, the Roh administration has targeted their already thin wallets. Although President Roh backed down on the “richest 20 percent” policy and readjusted his tax target to the “richest 10 percent,” most white-collar workers are still exposed to the administration’s many elaborate taxing schemes, since their wallets are the most transparent and the National Tax Service can look right into their earnings. Winning a small battle with all the receipts you have collected over the year at the end of the year tax report will not matter much in the face of another tax increase.

Adding insult to injury, new real estate policies have frustrated low-salaried workers’ dreams of owning homes on bank loans. If your annual salary is less than 50 million won, your loan limit for buying a house in a housing speculation area drops to 200 million won. The new policy tells you plainly: If you’re not “really rich,” don’t try to buy a nice house.

Having your own home does not lighten the burden. A 48-year-old white-collar worker was recently levied a combination real estate tax because the value of his home, in which he lived for 12 years, increased to 1 billion won. The frustrated man posted his complaint on an internet website: “I am not holding any money in my hand, why am I being hustled left and right?”

At the end of the 1990s, the term “job insecurity” was on everyone’s lips. The words of the minute included “45-year-old retiree,” “56-year-old thief (for someone still works at age 56)”, and “jobless at age 20.” Most salaried workers, having suffered enough in five or more years, quit their dream of climbing up the corporate ladder. In contrast to Korea, the Japanese economy has had a steady recovery, and now more than half of its white-collar workers escaped the insecurity of employment. The answer lies in growth. April will feel warmer if more workers are moving on to better jobs.

Hong Kwon-hee, Editorial Writer, konihong@donga.com