A million unionized public officials and school teachers staged a mass protest in Seoul over the weekend against pension reform, which demonstrated the deep-rooted collective selfishness of civil servants. Fortunately, unionized employees of seven metropolitan and provincial governments had enough sense not to participate in the protest, jointly saying, "The demonstration is a lost cause if it only aims to have our demands met amidst difficult economic conditions and public angst." Well said. If civil servants are only anxious to protect their own interests in the face of an unprecedented economic crisis, people have nowhere to turn to.
Civil servants want the government to leave alone the pension system. The revision of a law on civil servant pensions to be passed in the National Assembly has fallen short of what is needed. Though civil servants will have to pay 27 percent more in pension premiums and receive 25 percent less benefits if the revision is passed, it is far from what the government originally proposed, which was for civil servants to pay and receive as much as ordinary citizens do under the national pension system. Ordinary citizens have already made their sacrifice. Their pension payouts have been cut from 60 percent to 40 percent of their lifetime income, a reduction of a third. Nonetheless, unionized public officials have taken to the streets in rejection of a largely watered-down revision.
They say civil servants take home slim paychecks, but if the average employee of a listed company has a base salary index of 100, the figure for civil servants is 91.5. Civil servants use low pay as an excuse to justify higher pension benefits, but they seem to be forgetting many other benefits exclusive to workers in the public sector. While many employees in the private sector live in fear of massive layoffs in an economic recession, those in the public sector have their jobs protected by the Constitution and laws. After President Lee Myung-bak undertook governmental reorganization, many civil servants found themselves sitting idly at their desks when their departments either disappeared or were consolidated. They nonetheless get paid because their jobs are secure, something unimaginable in private companies.
The economic slowdown has no end in sight and is taking a serious toll on the people. To help placate their woes, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has frozen tuition and enrollment fees at public high schools and kindergartens in Seoul. Major private universities will also either freeze tuition next year or minimize the raise. Without sharing the burden, no one can cope with the crisis.
Civil servants, however, are largely absent from the country`s joint efforts to overcome economic challenges. When the government decided to remove a law that guarantees job security for high-level public officials, many of them showed signs of disgruntlement. Instead of leading the efforts to overcome the economic difficulties, civil servants apparently want to protect their own vested interests, much to the public`s fury.