NATIONAL

Age discrimination rife in Korea despite legislation

By Lee Woo-young
  • Published : Mar 27, 2012 - 20:31
  • Updated : Mar 27, 2012 - 20:33
Women in 50s most likely to experience age discrimination in employment


When one 50-year-old housewife asked staff at one of the country’s biggest supermarket chains what qualifications were needed for her to be a cashier, she got a nasty surprise.

The first thing cashiers told her was that she needed to be under 50.

She was told thatunless she has a special qualification or is highly recommended by someone, age matters the most.

Women in their 50s often seek employment out of a need to become the breadwinner of their family, because their spouse suddenly loses his job during the economic recession. 
A middle-aged job-seeker writes her resume at a job fair in Seoul for women trying to reenter the workforce. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

But they are more likely than men or younger women to experience age discrimination in employment.

“When your age starts with the number five, that means you will have a hard time finding a job,” said Kim, asking for anonymity.

According to a recent National Human Rights Commissions survey on employment discrimination, more than half of women have experienced age discrimination in employment (66.7 percent), with 85.7 percent of those in their 50s experiencing discrimination because of their age.

Age discrimination worsens when job seekers with high school diplomas (73.6 percent) try to work in the manufacturing (73.7 percent) or retailing sectors (58 percent) on a temporary contract (78.1 percent).

“The survey shows that resolving age discrimination will contribute greatly to revitalizing the employment of the underprivileged in our society,” said Park Gui-cheon, a professor at Ewha Womans University, at the NHC forum on age discrimination last week.

Petitions regarding age discrimination filed with the NHRC make up 7.7 percent of the total 11,895 petitions regarding any form of discrimination since 2001. Employment discrimination accounts for 76 percent of age discrimination cases.

“Age discrimination is the third most frequently reported after discrimination based on disability and sexual harassment,” said Kim Eun-mi, director of the discrimination investigation division at NHRC at the forum.

It has been three years since the Age Discrimination in Employment Act took effect in 2009, forbidding workplace age discrimination in hiring, wages, promotion, termination of employment and layoffs.

But experts said the act fell short of making an impact on fair employment.

“Age limits for job qualifications decreased to 7 percent in the latter half of 2010, but surged again to 40 percent in a year,” said Jeong Jae-hoon, director of the public relations division at Incruit, an Internet recruiting service.

“It indicates that the exclusion of an age limit from job qualifications has not been settled in many companies,” Jeong added.

Park Sung-ho, 33, admitted he felt discriminated against when he saw an age limit in the job qualifications for a foreign airline company.

“I know why companies are hesitant to hire older people. It’s because they might feel uncomfortable working with those older than them. But the older they are, they will have a higher work ethic and better follow job orders than younger employees. Age is just a number,” Park noted.

He said he will apply with a public enterprise instead of looking for a position at finance companies or private companies, since the age barrier is higher.

Kim said: “We need to revise the discrimination act so that it can better help those discriminated against because of their age. We also need to strengthen the national campaign against age discrimination and uncover more unknown discrimination cases.”

By Lee Woo-young and Kim Young-won
(wylee@heraldcorp.com) (wone0102@heraldcorp.com)