SEOUL, Sept. 10 (Korea Bizwire) – With a plummeting birth rate and soaring life expectancy, care workers are emerging as one of the crucial professions in an aging South Korea where seniors now account for over 14 percent of the country’s population, but pressing issues such as difficult working conditions and poor treatment still remain unaddressed.
With nearly 700,000 dementia patients in South Korea, the National Health Insurance Service has developed Long Term Care, a social care program designed for older people in need of assistance.
Home care worker Kim is among the many that make up over 310,000 currently employed care workers who visit elderly people’s homes on a regular basis, helping those who suffer from dementia or have had a stroke and require assistance to maintain a normal life.
Despite the respected social perception of the job, the hardships that follow and the poor treatment that is far too often experienced by care workers are scaring many people away from pursuing the profession.
Kim says she thinks of quitting her job multiple times a day.
“If it’s a household with other family members, I’m often asked to undertake other tasks such as cooking and washing (for them) and it’s hard to refuse.”
Similar to Kim’s experience, many of the recipients of Long Term Care including their family members equate care workers with housekeepers, piling on house chores and adding to the already overwhelming and physically taxing workload.
Low wages, especially considering the physically challenging nature of the job, are another factor that discourages people from pursuing the career.
Over the last decade, the nation’s minimum wage has more than doubled, while the wage for long-term care workers only increased 18.7 percent, according to an organization behind a collective action for care workers.
In Busan, care workers who rotate on a 12-hour shift earn 1.65 to 1.7 million won per month on average.
The group, which held a protest earlier this year in front of Busan City Hall, expressed concern over the poor treatment of home care workers in the region while criticizing nursing homes for resorting to expedients to evade legal responsibilities by making working conditions even worse.
The group explained that since most care workers are in their 50s and 60s, the poor working conditions and low wages often lead to poorer quality social care services.
Another aspect of the job that is often overlooked in the discussion of care workers is emotional labor.
For instance, when money or belongings are lost, sometimes care workers are the first to be accused, which can be deeply discouraging and hurtful.
Given that most care workers are female, some have experienced sexual harassment.
In addition, daily working hours have been slashed from four to three starting this year, bringing down wages even further and making the job even less appealing to the public.
Due to the aforementioned issues, despite nearly 1.3 million people possessing a license to work as a care worker, according to data by the National Health Insurance Service, only around 310,000 are currently working in the field, meaning 77 percent opt out of the job after training.
Against this backdrop, the Moon administration’s plans to tackle dementia as a national challenge, build more nursing homes and improve the working conditions for care workers have been met with widespread praise.
On a local government level, the provincial assembly in South Jeolla Province recently proposed an ordinance to improve the treatment and working conditions of social care workers amid a growing number of senior residents, who now account for over 21 percent of the population in the region.
Hyunsu Yim (firstname.lastname@example.org)