Have you ever thought about the cleaning ladies working here on the KAIST campus? They sweep and wipe the hallways and bathrooms in our dormitories, department buildings, and libraries. Most are very friendly to students and appear to have little complaints about their job. However, if we look into their realities, hardly anything seems to be as heartwarming as their expressions.
According to the research conducted last year on the working conditions of cleaners, they receive an average salary of less than 1,000,000 Korean Won per month. This is a very low figure compared to their average of 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. shifts, with hardly any break times, for about six days a week. Some might think that cleaning the facilities is a fairly simple and easy task, but it is extremely difficult to finish the required amount of work given for the day, not to mention the unbearable pains of performing repetitive physical labor. Things aren’t looking too bad though, because they receive a monthly payment for food expenses. How much? A measly 9,000 Korean Won per month (yes, per month). That divides into 300 Korean Won that they can spend on food for a day. To make matters worse, most KAIST cleaners are female, so that cuts their salary by up to 200,000 Korean Won compared to what the male workers earn.
As pointed out, social and economic problems of Korea are occurring closer to us than we think. The current state of KAIST cleaners reveals the difference in working conditions of regular and non-regular workers and the gender inequality that is still prevalent in the labor industry, just to name a few drawbacks of our society that can be perceived on the surface. Theses cleaners are mostly non-regular workers, a group within Korea’s labor force whose members are in constant fear of getting fired at any moment while receiving the lowest salaries and treatment within their respective companies. With less than 1,000,000 Korean Won, the cleaning ladies in school put into their pockets the least possible amount of their income to support a minimum quality of living, and spend the rest for other family members, perhaps on their child’s education (and we all know how disastrous the current Korean education system is).
It is getting harder and harder to make a living, and at some point it became impossible to move up the socio-economic ladder in Korea. The inequitable distribution of wealth is worsening as time passes, but we can hardly find any one of our country’s leaders trying to solve these problems, blinded by greed and the sheltered roof they live under. Representatives of our country constantly and persistently argue that Korea has evolved into an advanced and developed country, but these statements remain questionable when we begin to perceive and understand our country’s harsh reality.
As students studying science and engineering, it is useless to develop innovative technologies when our society doesn’t even have the right social and humanitarian rights set in place. We might be able to create efficient machines that don’t require human workers, but this can also lead to abrupt firings of both non-regular workers (who are the first in line) and regular workers. When it is extremely hard to find a job, our success as scientists could mean a breakdown in another family’s survival.
This issue of The KAIST Herald features a look into the 2012 Presidential Election of Korea. The first step to improving our country’s state is to elect a leader who can rightfully fulfill the position. If you are a resident outside of Daejeon, make sure to cast an absentee ballot. Filings are accepted from November 21 to 25, and forms can be found online as well as at the entrances of our dormitory buildings. To be safe, be sure to mail them in at least a day before the due date. As students, there is little we can do to make a major change as of yet. But one thing we can do is to vote for someone who can successfully implement policies that reflect our views.
Ji Ha Kim