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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