A recent survey revealed that the majority of Korean citizens feel that imposing an age ceiling on job applicants is wrong and that this practice should be abolished. It was also revealed that more than 50% of women have had the experience of giving up applying for certain jobs because of the age limit. Based on the survey, the Korean National Council of Women (KNCW) opened a counseling center in September to collect cases of people disadvantaged by the age limit, and plans to launch a campaign in October calling for the abolishment of the age ceiling on job applicants.
At the 'Experts' Workshop on Age Limit in Recruitment and Women's Working Rights' organized by the KNCW and held on August 30, Jang Ji Yeon, a researcher with the Korea Labor Institute, reported that many people find the age limit imposed by companies in recruiting employees a serious problem.
According to the survey conducted by the KNCW from June 15 to 30 on 510 men and women living in Seoul, 60% of the women respondents said that the problems caused by the age limit was 'serious,' and 30% said they were 'very serious.' The percentages are 55% and 19% respectively for the men. 57.8% of the women said they gave up responding to want ads due to the age limit imposed by the company. 38.7% of the men said they had the same experience. Those who sent in job applications only to be rejected at the application paper review or job interview stage accounted for 29% of the women and 22% of the men. Asked if they thought that the age limit was unfair, 48.6% responded 'definitely so' and 37.5% 'quite so.'
The workshop participants agreed that the age limit in job recruitment should be abolished, and proposed a variety of methods to this end. One proposal was legislating a new law, and another was revising the existing Gender Equality Employment Act to the Equal Employment Act prohibiting all forms of discrimination in employment. Lee in Deok, Director of the Women's Department of the Korea Federation of Trade Unions, suggested, "The Act should be really practical, providing for penalties such as fines for non-compliance."
Another point of discussion at the workshop was about wages. Acknowledging the need to reduce the consideration of seniority in determining salaries, the participants added that an objective standard for assessing job performance should come first so as to prevent employers from abusing the annual salary system. Many of the participants pointed out that the fundamental problem is the seniority-based mindset prevalent in Korean society, something that needs to be altered. Regarding the rationale behind the age limit, 65% of the survey respondents said that it was 'cultural influences making it uncomfortable for superiors to handle subordinates older than them,' and 40% 'difficulty in employing an older person on a small starting salary.' 35% said that there are no reasonable grounds for the age limit.
75% of the respondents felt that it was common corporate practice for people to establish a hierarchy based on age, which in turn determined the way employees are treated. 47.7% felt that it was common to see people switch jobs when the company employs someone younger than them as their superior. Another 56% said that when an employee with a shorter company career gets promoted, the employees with a longer career who failed to get promoted usually leave the company.
Kim Mi Gyeong, a researcher with the Korea Women's Development Institute, explained, "In the US, where laws prohibiting discrimination based on age were enacted 30 years ago, it is illegal to discriminate against workers in any aspect of employment, including recruitment, dismissal, promotion, want ads, and even resumes." According to Kim, age discrimination is also prohibited in Canada based on its Human Rights Act and in Australia based on its Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Act. As for the UK, a worker dismissed unfairly because of his age is entitled to a compensation of up to 27 thousand pounds, and age discrimination is prohibited in recruitment, employment, job training, promotion and dismissal.