SEOUL, Jan. 2 (Korea Bizwire) — Bullying in the workplace, bullies online and too many hours spent on the job.
These three are some of the social issues that South Koreans would desperately like to see addressed in 2018.
Cases of “gapjil”, a Korean euphemism referring to the abuse of an individual’s or organization’s power guaranteed by a more advantageous position and status relative to the victim, were the darling of news headlines in 2017, making appearances with troubling frequency.
These major news pieces were only the tip of the iceberg, as an October survey of 710 South Koreans in the workforce by a civic group providing legal counsel to individuals suffering from gapjil revealed that 75.8 percent had been a victim of gapjil at work in the last three years.
January was not too early for last year’s first major gapjil incident, when it was reported that the chairman of Hyundai BNG Steel had physically assaulted his chauffeur, who was working 56 hours per week. The chairman was fined 5 million won.
Nurse fetishes literally took center stage at Hallym University Medical Center when photos and reports leaked to the public that yearly hospital events were an occasion for female nursing staff to be coerced into performing wearing skimpy clothing.
A young female entry level employee at furniture company Hanssem caused a firestorm of controversy when she posted on a social media site that she had been sexually assaulted by her mentor in charge of training.
A handful among many more, these stories resonated on a very personal level with the public, who believe that the problem of the strong taking advantage of the weak is deeply rooted in South Korean work life. Popular opinion is that tools such as social media have begun to shine a light into the unsavory aspects of society that have long festered away from view.
Experts point to the hierarchical and top-down nature of the nation’s company culture as the reasons gapjil is so widespread.
Sociology professor Jeon Sang-gil of Sogang University explained in an interview that social hierarchy in South Korean society is clearly defined, and that orders issued from above are meant to be obeyed without question.
“When average people see the elites succeed by preying on the weak but cowering before those in a stronger position, they begin to believe that when the opportunity comes that they also must adopt those behaviors to survive,” Jeon said.
While social media has been a channel through which gapjil victims can find support and a means to justice, pockets of the online community have been accused of cyber bullying, sometimes resulting in terrible consequences.
For instance, one middle school student committed suicide last year, one of a number of individuals unable to bear being the target of cyber bullying.
The internet has also provided a platform for marginalized hate groups as well as individuals with bad intentions without filter. In October, when actor Kim Joo-hyuk passed away in a sudden car accident, an online misandrist group’s posted comments mocking the deceased shocked many.
The same group once again made similar comments regarding the recently deceased Jonghyun of K-pop group Shinee, who committed suicide on December 18.
Going beyond targeting celebrities, who by virtue of being in the public eye are frequently the mark of offensive comments or worse, certain netizens’ willingness to speak mockingly of disaster survivor victims has left members of the public wondering if enough is enough.
After reports circulated of comments criticizing the families of victims who perished in a building fire in Jecheon, North Chungcheong Province, one family member appealed to the presidential office, writing on the Blue House’s civilian petitions website that “the prevalence of absurd negative comments are causing even greater hurt to victims’ families”.
Experts have called for a paradigm shift by general society regarding the severity of online violence and for government to step in through laws and policies.
Another area where South Koreans hope government can legislate improvements is the workplace, or more specifically the reduction of working hours.
South Korean employees have a right to feel exhausted; according to data published by the OECD, last year the workers propping up Asia’s fourth largest economy labored an average of 2,069 hours per individual, logging the second most work hours in the OECD.
The ultra-efficient Germans clocked in at a low of 1,363 hours, while the OECD average was 1,764 hours.
Assuming that one workday equals 8 hours, this would mean that the average South Korean worked four more months than the average German, and 1.7 months more than employees of a nation at the OECD average.
Stories of workers reporting to the office at seven-thirty in the morning and staying until eleven-thirty at night every day are common. Weary and short on sleep, these tired individuals employ a large portion of their weekends catching up on sleep, before putting their nose to the grindstone once more.
Compounding exhaustion is the fact that for some, sleeping away the weekends would be a dream; working on weekends, after work hours, and on holidays is a reality for workers who either are unable to refuse the boss’ orders or who need the overtime pay to supplement a meager income.
Kevin Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)