[Newsmaker] Paternal leave a luxury mainly for civil servants, conglomerate employees in S. Korea

By Claire Lee
  • Published : Sept 26, 2018 - 14:20
  • Updated : Sept 26, 2018 - 16:12

The vast majority of Korean men who take parental leave are either civil servants or full-time workers at the nation’s large conglomerates, with male employees at small and midsized businesses either unable to take it or choosing not to, a lawmaker’s office revealed Wednesday.

According to Rep. Shin Bo-ra of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, 70 percent of Korean men who have taken parental leave were either employed in the public sector or at big conglomerates, such as Samsung or Hyundai. Only 30 percent worked for small or midsized companies.

“It seems like men who are high earners or those with employment stability have better access to parental leave, (even though it should be every man’s right),” Rep. Shin said.   

(Ministry of Health and Welfare)

Civil servant posts and full-time positions at large conglomerates, also known as Chaebol, are some of the most sought-after jobs in Korea’s ever-competitive job market, as they offer relatively high salaries, job security and other benefits.

Temporary workers are often paid less than full-time workers in South Korea, even if they do the same amount of work that requires substantially equal skill and responsibility.

Young job seekers often spend years in preparation for the jobs in public sector and big conglomerates. In April this year, some 155,000 Koreans wrote the civil service exams to be selected for only 4,963 spots available.

Job security was among the factors that influenced men’s decisions about parental leave.

According to Shin’s office, while 88 percent of male civil servants and those who worked for large conglomerates stayed in their jobs for at least a year after returning from parental leave, the same was true for only 67 percent of male workers at small and midsized companies.

The Labor Ministry provided the figures disclosed by Shin’s office.

The  South Korean government actively encourages all working fathers to take parental leave because the wide gender pay gap and unequal distribution of domestic labor, including child care, have been cited as major factors behind Korea’s critically low fertility rate.

Still, a report released by the Ministry of Welfare in July showed that more than 60% of Korean working parents felt uneasy asking for parental leave from their employers, fearing potential consequences such as demotions and even losing their jobs.

Partially due to the government’s efforts, the number of working fathers who took parental leave increased 58.1 percent on-year, from 7,616 in 2016 to 12,042 last year. However, the number of working women who took parental leave dropped 5 percent, from 82,163 to 78,080.

Parental leave increased dramatically among high-earning fathers -- those who make more than 3.5 million won ($3,131) a month -- with the number of fathers in this group who took parental leave jumping 76 percent from 1,589 to 2,811. 

But Rep. Shin stressed that there was a significant decrease in rates of parental leave among low-earning mothers -- those who make less than 1.5 million won monthly. Their numbers dropped 23.8 percent from 15,643 to 11,916.

“We need to come up with measures to tackle this situation, where those who are low earners and those who work for small companies have limited access to parental leave,” the lawmaker said.