Apartment Guards Get Minimum Wage Along With Massive Layoffs

From Kukmin Ilbo:

Topping Off a Hard Life, Apartment Security Staff Get the Heave-Ho This Winter


Mr. Jang, a 67 year-old apartment security guard working in Seoul’s Nowon district, recently received a notice of contract termination from his administrative office. It said he could work until the end of the year and then would have to leave. He had been working on yearly contracts and yet this was the first time to receive such a notice. He has no idea how he’ll find new work, which he’ll need to figure out in the next two months leading up to the termination of his contract. “I’d heard rumors that starting next year the custodial wages were going to rise and lead to layoffs, but I just can’t believe this,” Jang said, lowering his head.

The notice was sent out to more than 60 apartment security staff. First, a forewarning of contract cancellations was sent to all staff members, and then those to be laid off were actually notified. This was done to prevent any legal disputes which may have arisen from specifics of the terminations. Without knowing exactly who, a significant number lost their jobs.

Soon, those on the termination “hit list” won’t even be able to quibble over poor working conditions. With an office space barely over 1 pyeong in size [approx. 35 sq. ft.] and no break room, break time is spent making the rounds, tidying the grounds, and engaging in an endless battle collecting fallen leaves. From a while back, rather than layoffs, rumors of unpaid break times and payroll freezes circulated. While worried about being fired, the greater concern is one of survival if that happens.

One apartment guard in the past had been pushed to the point of setting himself on fire in protest of inhumane treatment. This time they will be driven out in a winter “layoff cold snap”. Starting next year, custodians and guards will be paid the full 100% of minimum wage, as required by law. During that time, security wages will cease to be around 90% of the minimum wage. As the costs of labor increase, apartment complexes and labor services groups are in full swing with the decrease in guards. Over time this could lead to the prospect of some 40,000 receiving their walking papers and getting laid off.

In August, another guard working in Gyeongbuk in Seoul, Mr. Hwang, 66, received a single-page document from the apartment security supervisor. “Contract of Employment” was written on the page followed by a 5-month term of employment specified as beginning August 1st and ending on December 31st. Having always worked on one-year contracts, this sudden 5-month contract came out of the blue. This apartment complex is also anticipating the wage hike starting next year and thus is pre-emptively preparing for a “restructuring”. The contract also states the workday will go from 7 hours to 8, and without paid break time.

One apartment complex with 1,200 families in Incheon is currently reviewing a plan to cut 4 to 5 employees of the 21-person security staff. This apartment’s monthly general maintenance fees amount to 66 million won [approx $60,000 USD], 97% of which (64 million won) makes up employee salaries and comprehensive insurance coverage. If the security wages go up, then maintenance fees too would have to rise, so instead, it will mean a loss of security personnel.

To better the working conditions of the security staff, the Korean government in 2007 signed the Minimum Wage Act. In fear of sudden, massive layoffs, the increasing pay to reach the minimum wage was implemented in stages starting with 70% in 2007, 80% in 2008, and 90% in 2012. Beginning next year it will reach 100%. During the end of 2011, when the wages were increased up to 90%, an estimated 10% of guards lost their jobs.

korea security guard 2

In Seoul alone, conditions are dire for the some-odd 35,000 apartment watchmen. Wages consist of base pay + night work pay + other payments. The actual 40-hour work week tends to average around 60 hours but without overtime pay. But since working hours vary, overtime compensation is subject to payment per the Labor Standards Act. Overnight wages (for work performed between 10pm-6am) are a mere 10% of the base wage. Extra wages account for up to 20,000 won per month.

97.3% of apartment guards working in the Seoul area consist of 2 people working in alternating shifts in a 24-hour day. This is because if 3 workers worked for 8-hour shifts each, it would lead to higher personnel costs. Working hours come to around 3,100 – 4,000 annually. And it appears that these working conditions will sour even more next year. In the aftermath of the Minimum Wage Act, if the number of security staff decreases, the amount of working hours will rise as well as the intensity of the labor itself.

Geon-ho Seok, head of the Korean Council of Trade Unions fears what may happen, saying, “By year’s end if 40,000 security personnel nationwide receive notice of their termination, that will lead to a major increase in those at a disadvantage in finding a place to work, and could be driven to make extreme choices.”

On November 20th, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a statement insisting the Ministry of Employment and Labor take steps to prepare for this. The NHRC said, “After retirement or when people get old, people call security the final workplace in their lives.” They also pointed out, “A massive dismissal of guards already subjected to poor working conditions is a problem which cannot be ignored.”

The NHRC spokesman said, “Government, workers unions, and others associated put your heads together and negotiate something. Federal and local governments come forward and make apartment residents aware of the reality of the poor working conditions for these security staff.”

Comments from Naver:


Pay another 10 million won in maintenance fees and it will be enough to cover the monthly salaries! Distributing it out works too. We need to cut off the twerps dicking around in the middle.


This is the problem of nitpicking ajummas living in the apartments. It’s their problem.


As these large apartment complexes downsize they will continue to treat the remaining staff like shit. They will still say they are doing a poor job and are lazy. Hang in there, fellas!


You guys are all blowing hundreds of thousands making your kids study but can’t fork over a little, like $3 or $20 to these security guards? What the fuck?


Laying off 4-5 guards means you’ll live uncomfortably? Can you live without guards or their office? Won’t you have to hire a cleaning lady then?????


Yesterday some ajumma was ripping our guard a new one for not carrying her heavy things to her house for her. She even said she would file a complaint with the management office. I just couldn’t believe that lady!


These placement agencies have high fees, so if the apartment complexes just hire their security staff directly there would be no problem. This is the problem of those job placement agencies.


Please, lets all try to live together here. Just make a little concession.


If a younger person did security work would they not even get paid 1.8 million won, and it’s even worse for the elderly [guards] who have to scratch out a living on just 1.2 to 1.3 million. Yet they’re getting laid off? Fucking crazy.


Don’t get panicked. Just drink one cup less of coffee per month and come together to cover these maintenance fees. Security guys’ worries…over!

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  • woonawoona

    This just breaks my heart. The old men at my old apartment in Gwangju were so sweet and kind. Imagine doing their job….absolutely mind numbing work.

    • What?!!!

      The old men at my old apartment in Gwangju were awful. To hell with them.

    • That’s marvelous

      The old men at my apartment in Gangnam seem to be doing just fine. They are nice guys, I always wave at them when i drive through the main gate in the morning. But I pay 400.000 won per month in maintenance fees, so let’s say I have certain expectations.

  • HaydenG

    Victims of a government set price floor on the cost of labor.. aka a minimum wage.
    when will people learn that you will only cause suffering unless you let the market set wages.

    • Guest

      Very dangerous. Once a person suggests raising the minimum wage in this country, then he or she will be branded as a Communist for the rest of his or her life. Anyways, it’s exceptionally too dangerous to raise the minimum wage here. But this ain’t the US of A, my good friend.

  • Dark Night

    No need to worry. This job will also become obsolete, like so many before it. Jobless growth, Korea’s future.

    • Ken Morgan

      Just like the USA and Europe! jobless recovery… trebles all round.

    • seno

      north korea is the only one whose never obsolete

  • RegisterToPost

    Those jobs are important for letting the ajeossis feel like they’re making a contribution after retirement. And Korea treats their senior citizens like crap. No social safety net. That’s why you have the old people riding Line 2 in circles all day long because they don’t want to feel like a burden while living with their grown children.

    • Ken Morgan

      Is there ANY section of society which Koreans don’t treat like crap?

      In the UK the young are treated like crap because the grey vote is huge and they are more likely to vote.

    • Sid Driver

      I agree. I’m always surprised to see how many people ignore the ajeossis or yell at them and give them problems. Most that I have met are pretty nice, and I’m sure it doesn’t feel great for them to have people ignore them all day. A little acknowledgement, a smile, or an 안녕하세요, goes a long way to making them feel appreciated and worthwhile.

  • 금정산


    This article was needed, but this is a tip of the iceberg. Half of South Koreans above 65 are in relative poverty. The suicide rate of the elderly is tragically high and seldom discussed.

    These gents are more fortunate than many. Ever seen elderly ladies with bent backs struggling to pull a cart of cardboard so they can earn a few dollars? Well, you’re lucky you haven’t seen the aged who are confined to their homes by poverty, wrapped in their blankets and loneliness; out of sight from the “my-image-is-everything” society.

    The “Happiness Pension” promised by Park is insufficient above the tight welfare system – which is only eligible to those whose children can’t (or choose not to) support them. This government didn’t want to raise taxes for those who worked endlessly to build the nation from a devastating war.

    Filial piety? Sparkling.

    • Chucky3176

      The national pension system was first instituted into practice in 1988. Of course that puts lot of today’s elderly people out of the loop, simply because there wasn’t enough time for these people to contribute enough money to get the pension fund when they got old. When people say Korea doesn’t have any safety net, they’re just mindlessly repeating the same thing they hear without checking the facts. The fact is South Korea’s pension fund is one of largest in the world. Of course the government could do more to help, but if the young Korean parents of today won’t help themselves by saving more for the future, then there is nothing anyone can do. The days when children take care of their aged parents at home are long gone. Most Koreans today seem to have a hard time understanding that. They cannot depend on their children to be the safety network later in life. Today’s young parents should stop blowing all their money on after school expenses for their kids, apartments for their kids, wedding expenses for their kids, and sending their kids abroad to learn English. They should worry about themselves first, save for the future, and let their kids grow up and earn their own way to the top, by themselves. The role of the parents is not to give the kids every material things they need, it’s to teach them the values and to provide a safe environment for the kids to grow up to become good men and women. Without Korea making fundalmental changes to the culture and society, no amount of welfare will solve this problem.

      • Guest

        Good. We should get rid of public schools in Korea. They had served their purposes well until the year 2000-ish such as resolving the nightmare-level of illiteracy and innumeracy in the 1950s. And we should privatize all public universities. It doesn’t matter which political party you support since our Confucian educational heritage is leading like this today since the beginning of the Joseon dynasty.

        • Chucky3176

          lol, how do you come away with that kind of conclusion?

          • David

            Perhaps he is using the terms ‘public’ and ‘private’ the way the British do. In England schools funded by government funds are called ‘independent’ while those you pay a tuition for (more exclusive schools) yourself are called ‘public’ it is the reverse in America. Or he is being sarcastic?

      • JohnDoe7

        Agreed. People who can’t afford to provide good living standards and education vital for a globalised, knowledge economy should not have children in the first place. They should not rely too much on government welfare and plan for their retirement instead. A people too reliant on welfare is a much bigger problem than birthrate which can be easily solved by simply open the gates to immigration.

    • 금정산

      More reading on the issue.


      • Sid Driver

        Wow, wow, wow… so interesting. Sad, but interesting. Thanks for sharing. One man made a comment about just having women around. I wonder if for older people it’s more about connecting with some one then it is about sex.

  • Ken Morgan

    I see Korea decided to skip to the M shaped society rather quickly (it took Taiwan 30 years to get to this state and Hong Kong 25).

    • Steven Richards

      The San Francisco Bay area has already gotten real bad; the average person would have to work 100 hours a week just to qualify for a dumpy apartment in a ‘really’ bad neighborhood, or get 5 roommates.

  • Guest

    Why are there so many bad news in Koreabang? Shouldn’t there be more good news instead of bad news?

    • C.D

      If you look at most news sites (BBC, etc.) I’d imagine most of the top stories would be bad news. Natural disaster, Islamist attacks in Africa, Russia, bombings and economic downturn. I’m not sure why you would expect Koreabang to run more good news than bad news.

    • choson

      yeah! all these bad new are lies anyway, there are only good news from korea

  • jonny

    korean women are yummy!

  • commander

    It is sad to see that a minimum wage for security guards has backfired like this, threatening their job security.

    I think few job security will support the policy of setting a minimum wage if it causes contractual terminations.

    After all, they prefer fewer wages to dismissal.

    The government’s well disposing policy is plunging security guards into a trap of poverty.

  • MikeinGyeonggi

    I certainly feel bad for older people getting laid off. But most “security guards” are a complete waste of money. They are 65+ year old unarmed men… Exactly what kind of security does that provide?

    In all of the apartments I’ve lived in, the security guards just receive parcels, yell at tenants about sorting recyclables, and sit in their office smoking cigarettes. Is this job really necessary?

    Instead of providing stupid and unnecessary jobs, Korea needs an actual pension system that provides for its citizens. This whole “the kids will support their elderly parents” idea is naive BS in 2014.

    • Chucky

      Again, what is this “Korea needs actual pension system” nonsense? Korea’s national pension system is a $400 billion+ fund, which is the third largest pension fund in the world, and is projected to grow to $2.2 trillion within 30 years.


      It’s not that there is no system, it’s that too many people are out of the loop because of two reasons. Not enough time for working people to contribute to the fund, since the pension fund is pretty new (only since 1988 has it been in place).

      The second reasons is the absolutely ridiculous number of people who didn’t pay a cent into the pension system. For instance, look at how many old men and women who are operating those illegal street food carts, or vending other items, who don’t pay a cent and who’ve never paid any income taxes in their lives. Should the tax payers also bail them out as well? South Korea’s strictly cash black economy to real economy ratio is one of the largest in the world. This is exactly why it is important to root out the black economy. You cannot have an effective welfare and pension system if there is no rule of law where everyone pays their fair share of taxes and pension contributions.

      Third, you’re way to optimistic about pensions. An average pensioner in South Korea receives $350 a month, which is pretty low. However in Canada, an average pensioner’s benefit is barely over $1000 a month, which is not that great either. Nobody can live on strictly fixed incomes like pensions. Everyone has to save for their own retirements, by investing in bonds, stocks, and retirement savings funds. And you ask Koreans, how well they are prepared, and an overwhelming number of people will say they aren’t. They’re too busy paying for their children’s education. An average Korean pays $400 a month in their children’s extra hours after school education. If they had taken that money and contributed to a savings fund, old Koreans today would have been in far better shape. Instead, Koreans have always relied on their children to support them into their old age. That is changing, and a lot of Koreans are going to be unprepared for their old age.

      The moral of the story, foolish to rely on the governments to solve all your problems. It is up to you to take care of yourselves.

      • Eric0912

        “Nobody can live on strictly fixed incomes like pensions. Everyone has
        to save for their own retirements, by investing in bonds, stocks, and
        retirement savings funds.”

        Retired people in the Nordic countries can survive on their pensions. It’s simply about how you choose to organise society.

    • Eric0912

      I think “security guard” is a misleading title. I guess they mostly act as some kind of doormen.

      • BMV

        The original word 경비원 can translate to security staff, janitor, groundsman, custodian, watchman, etc. I think in English we would most likely refer to these individuals as “security” before those other titles.

  • Small twon

    Those rich leeches in Gangnam ….they are the cancer of Korea. No sense of responsibility but only entitlement. Some citizens in the poorer side of Seoul willingly accept less money to share jobs or pay extra to keep jobs with their less fortunate neighbors.

    • Chucky3176

      It’s a myth that only rich people live in Gangnam. Yah, a lot of rich people do live in Gangnam, but there’s hell of a lot more middle class people who live in Gangnam. It’s not their responsibility to help them out with welfare jobs. If those security guards are really needed, those residents will pay at least their minimum wage. If there’s a need for their services, the market will decide.

      The problem is that Korea needs to let the market decide who to fire and hire. There’s way too many over-employment where the law prevents companies from firing expendable people, even if they are going bankrupt. South Korea’s unemployment rate is 3.5% – ridiculously low, only because the employment law says you cannot fire anybody, but must give them jobs for life. Which company in its right mind would hire full time jobs? Instead they’ll go out and get part time workers or temporary contract workers, pay them less, and get around Korea’s ridiculous nanny state labor laws.

      • Small twon

        1.Korean companies have been firing people as many as they want. What you consider “ridiculous nanny state labor laws” is really last life line for many people.

        2. that 3.5 % ? that data is misguided. People who give up “finding secure job” and forced retired people is not in that data.

        3.”It’s not their responsibility to help them out with welfare jobs”…

        I am speechless…..

        First ,that’s not welfare jobs. They are much more efficient than CCTV system. There is study,google it.

        Second ,what you casually call as a “expendable people” are your fellow human being,not machine parts. Yes, we are all capitalist and it’s cruel and harsh world but could you show little bit of sympathy for the less fortunate fellow human being ? and people you call “expendable people” were the backbone of Korea economy(many of them,I am not saying “all”)and deserve some consideration from present Korea.

        Third I didn’t say “all”resident in Gangnam are rich leeches.

        Seriously , If you think those well dressed, pretty, english speaking folks with oversea education in Gangnam(or other rich neighbor) were the reason of economic development of korea..you are totally wrong. It was countless workers who sweat their blood and tears in the German mines,sweat shops, middle east,factories who made modern day Korea.

  • Eric0912

    Unbelievably cheap rich people.

  • BSDetector

    The only sense of security I get from these guys is that someone’s getting a secure night’s sleep on that chair in the little office.

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