The Working and Living Conditions in South Korea in the stage of the export-oriented Industrialization (1965-1980)

Scientific Study, 1984
124 Pages, Grade: 1.0


Table of Content

I. Working Conditions
I.1. Working Hours
I.1.1. The Working Hours in the colonial time and during the occupation by the USA
I.1.2. The working times according the “Labour Standard Law”
I.1.3. Summary
I.1.4. The Working Times of Employees
I.1.5. Main investigation results of the working times
I.2. Intensity of Work
I.3. Work Place Conditions
I.4. Vocational Diseases and Accidents at Work
I.5. Labour Turn-over Rate in the Industry of South Korea

II. Wages
II.1. Salary Determination Process
II.1.1. Historical determination of the general wage level
II.1.2. Excursus: Trade unions and worker movement in South Korea
II.1.3. Statutory regulations for overtime payment
II.1.4. Labour market structure
II.2. The Korean wage system
II.2.1. Wage structure
II.2.2. Determination of wages within the company
II.3. Wage Development
II.3.1. Real Wage Increases in the 70s
II.3.2. Wage differences by economic sectors
II.3.3. Wage differences by profession groups
II.3.4. Wage rises and productivity increases in manufacturing
II.3.5. Wages in manufacturing by branches (1970, 1975, 1980)
II.3.6. Wage differences by gender
II.3.7. Summary

III. Consumption Structure
III.1. Reduction of the size of household
III.2. Oscillations in the amount of the working family members
III.3. Reduction of Food Expenses (“Engel’s Law”)
III.4. Expenditure for nutrition by main groups
III.5. The expenditures of the worker households for housing, energy, clothing and miscellaneous

IV. Collective Consumption
IV.1. The expenses for „Social Security Program“ in South Korea in comparison of nations
IV.2. Central Government Expenditure
IV.3. The provisions of the “Social Security Program” (SSP)
IV.3.1. Insurance System
IV.3.2. Livelihood-Protection Program (LLP)
IV.3.3. Self-Welfare Services
IV.4. Summary and Outcome

V. Income distribution and Poverty in South Korea
V.1. Distribution data of South Korea in comparison to other nations
V.2. Historical Reasons for the moderate income inequality
V.3. Development of income distribution in the 70s
V.4. Poverty in South Korea
V.5. Socio-economic Attributes of the urban households of the poor
V.6. Summary and outcome
V.7. Bibliography
V.8. Official Statistics

Summary of the social study: "The working and living conditions in South Korea during the stage of the export-oriented industrialization (1965-1980)"


South Korea is currently subject of fierce discussion at theoretical debate concerning development. The “take off” of South Korea is not denied. During 19 years the land of farmers becomes an industrial nation ranking at the world trade statistics among the first 20 states. The part of gross national product amounts to 35 % in 1980. During 1962 – 1980 The growth rates of GNP comes to 8.4 % on average per year The income per head amounts to 1,503 US$.1

These global economic indicators are a good reason for taking South Korea out of the circle of the developing countries and put it to the swell of the industrialized countries. The term “Swell County”, which is applied to South Korea within the political debate, hits this interim position at the best. Among the so called swell counties South Korea plays a particular role. The case of South Korea is unique within the history of capitalism. Despite of the size of South Korea (in 1988 38.2 Mio. persons are living in South Korea) and the less developed domestic market South Korea succeeds to export ca. 35% of its gross domestic product. Even the tremendous increased import prices of petrol could be relatively well compensated by South Korea.

The developing path through the market integrated export production of primary light industrial goods is assessed differently at present. Three main streaming are distinguished within the assessment.2 The advocacies of the modernization theory take South Korea as an example for the feasibility of a catch up on industrialization with capitalistic and world market integrated strategies and recommend to go in the same direction for other developing countries.3

Contrary the Marxist oriented scientists believe that only in the next years the structural flaws of South Korea’s economic systems will be apparent in its full extent and it will be obvious that the South Korea becomes stuck into the dead-end way.4

The recent variant within the assessment of the case South Korea comes out of the circle of the Marxists. The structural heterogeneity in the social and economic area of South Korea is assessed otherwise. To the respect of the developing history of the metropolitan capitalism, which was distinguished until 1900 by mass poverty and marginalization of broad parts of the population, the phenomenon of structural heterogeneity can be overcome.5 At this opinion the future development of South Korea is rather an example for the step forward of a peripheral country out of the underdevelopment with capitalistic sign. The dependency theory of Latin America (South Korea Amin) and the theory of the peripheral capitalism (D. Senghaas) are up for consideration.

These different statements make it necessary to look closer to the Korean way of development. The question whether South Korea will be able to overcome the currently problems like f. e. the high debt to foreign countries, the growing protectionist measures of the western world, the recession of the world economy will not be asked within this essay. My intention is rather, the question of morality of an “export for any price” politic regarding the working people. It is a need to clarify how much loss of men and quality of life legitimately can be exacted to the people in order to reach welfare for the future generations.

What is disguised behind the statement of a German manager saying

“To reach such a growth, there is no alternative as for one time to burn three generations of workers.”6

With the illustration of the working conditions in chapter 1 it is intended on the one hand to disclose the exaggerated exploitation of the male and female workers and on the other hand to point out some differences in the extent of the attrition of the work forces.

In chapter 2 the development of the remuneration und the destination factors of the wage findings are outlined. Herein also it is intended to disclose the fractions among the working force which have got above-average wage increases.

The participation of the collection of national richness caused by the economic development is expressed in the changes within the consumption structure of the wage-earners households. The shift in-between the consumptive expenditures will be the focus of chapter 3.

In chapter 4 the development of the collective consumption of South Korea is drawn. Which measures are taken by the state in order to redistribute the national income in favour to the part of the population with low income? How is about the social security system in South Korea? Is the state guarantee a minimum of living quality or are the poor let be themselves?

In the last part of the essay (chapter 5) finally the development of the income distribution will be outlined in order to point out a possible polarisation of the population. At the same time the poverty in South Korea will be quantified and put into the context to the pursued economic way.

At this place I will say thanks to all who had given me advice or helped me during my travel in South Korea (1981 and 1985). As requested I will not name any person. The political situation in South Korea doesn’t make it possible to cite by name critical notices of persons living and working in South Korea.

I. Working Conditions

I.1. Working Hours

A crucial factor of the working conditions is the length of a working day and the amount of the working daily per week, demanded from the employees.

Prior of outlining the employee’s work hours, particularly these of the workers of the capital during the export oriented industrialization, a short view at the working hours in the time before should show us the preconditions of the proceeding industrialization. The question is risen, whether with the boosting export production beginning from mid of the 60’s, the working hours have increased and which measures have been taken by the government.

I.1.1. The Working Hours in the colonial time and during the occupation by the USA

Under the Japanese colonial rule (1910 – 1945) the Korean work force was forced to work many hours. The working day of the large companies reached 11 hours daily. In small and medium sized companies the working time have been of 12 and 13 hours.7

A regulatory limit of the working hours has not been imposed to the employers,8 which were Japanese people for the most part.

The working hours per week were excessively high. According a research of 213 mines in the year 1931 only 5,8% of the miners have 3 off days per month, 43,6 % 2 days off and 44% of the miners didn’t have any day off during the month.9 Already at that time the female workers have been working longer than the male and the children longer than the adults. While male had to work 10 hours daily, female workers worked 10,25 and children 10,33 daily.10

On 7th November 1946 the American military government set forced a law, which defined the working hours to 8 hours daily and 48 hours weekly. The extension of the working time was solely enabled by the authorization of the trade union or by the related workers. The overtime should be remunerated by 150% of the normal wage. An extension over 60 hours was only allowed at an emergency case f. e. to protect live of priority. Upon this the appropriate government agency has made the decision.11

The regulatory normalization of the working hours was often breached. Particularly the law imposed overtime compensation was paid seldom. But, the working hours was not as high as during the Japanese colonial period. The average weekly working time in the manufacturing industry was 47 hours in the year 1949. The miners had a 50 hours week. Their day offs were 3 to 4 days per month.12

I.1.2. The working times according the “Labour Standard Law”

Lang time after the foundation of the republic of Korea, there was no labor law. Yet within the Labour Standard Law (from here on: LSL), passed in 1953 by the national assembly, the normal working times have been defined. The Eight-hours-day and the 48-hours-week was adopted from the American law from 1946. Within the Korean law the possible extension of the working time to 60 hours per week has been sustained. Though in the LSL some fundamental provisions have been changed:[13]

Firstly not all overtime hours have to be paid as overtime premium.14 Secondly there is no provision that stipulates a penalty in case of a law breach. Thirdly within the American law the extension beyond 60 hours per week was only allowed in an emergency case, while within the Korean LSL only a “peculiar circumstances” is necessary that the appropriate government agency give the approval to the extension of working time.15

According to the LSL the working time for children from 13 years on amounts to 7 hours daily and 42 hours weekly. In contrast to the American law the Korean ministry is able to extent the hours to 9.16

Within the LSL The working breaks are ruled as follows: all employees get minimum 30 minutes rest time during a four-hours work. For 8 hours there are defined 60 minutes rest time. The rest times are not paid.

The regulation of the day offs are laid out in the following overview. All mentioned day off should be paid by the law.

Days off and vacation regulations

illustration not visible in this excerpt17

Originally the LSL of 1953 was applied to all economic branches. In the year 1975 the South Korean government confined the application to companies with 16 and more employees. One year later the law was extended to firms with 5 and more employees. The most important provisions were not applied to small companies (companies under 16 employees). There are the following provisions:

- Prior notice regarding lay-offs
- All provisions related to working time, vacation and days-off
- Financing of social benefits f. e. severance payment
- All provisions related to child and woman lobour (night shifts, overtime work) excluding the prohibition of unhealthy work (f. e. mining)

As well the recently revised working law (LSL from 31/12/1980) rules out the small companies with less than 16 employees from these provisions.

On the ground of the unequal applying of the LSL to the corporations, the worst working conditions (as well as the child labour) will be found in the small companies.

Contrary to the official proclamations, the revised labour law contains instead of improvements of working conditions a lot of restrictions of the rights of the work force.

In the following the new provisions of the working times will be outlined briefly and will be interpreted to give an example of the resulting deterioration of the working conditions.

The working times are regulated within the new law like already 1953.

“Hours of work shall be eight (8) hours a day excluding rest period, and fourty eight (48) hours a week. However, the work hour may be extended to a maximum of 12 hours a week with an agreement between the parties concerned.”18

However, a working week of 60 hours is still not enough for the interest of the capital.

So, if the company is in trouble to deliver the export goods to a fixed date, the work force will be forced to supplement overtime. To explain such “particular situations” the ministry has stipulated a amendment within the act:

“Employer may extend, with an approval of the ministry of Labour, the working hours prescribed in §1 when a special circumstance existed. In an emergency case where an advance approval was not possible a de facto approval shall be obtained without delay.”19

In order to relieve the ministry of labour and to give capital more latitude regarding the utilization of workers the act from 31st Dec. 1980 has been extended by a more flexible overtime regulation. By this amendment the eight-hours-day and the 48-hours week, which were stipulated yet in 1953, are de facto withdrawn:

“With an agreement between the concerned parties, an employer may require work in excess of 8 hours on certain day an 48 hours in a certain week, as far as it does not exceed weekly average of 48 hours during the four-week period.”20

As well as regard to the working conditions of children (persons between 13 – 18 years) and women the new law doesn’t provide any improvement.

As it is stipulated in LSL from 1953 children and women are forbidden to do heath endangered work. As well as the night shifts (22 – 6 o’clock) are forbidden. However the last provision has been restricted in applying to companies with 16 and more employees and has not been extended to all factories. A substantial change of the working times by law of the employees under 18 years allows that the capital incorporate minors as full-value work force into the production process.

The law from 1953 has confined the normal working day to seven hours and linked an extension to the approval of the appropriate ministry. The new law has exacerbated the situation for wage depended children and youths. The length of the working day should be agreed between the workers and the employers (“with an agreement of the parties concerned”).21 What means anything but the the employer dictate the daily working time. For a 13 years old minor, a 48-hours-week based on an 8-hours-day is by law even in companies with more than 16 employees allowed.

This is not compliant with the ILO convention concerning child labour from 1973. It is written within:

“The minimum age specified in pursuance of paragraph 1 of the article shall not be less than the age of completion of compulsory school and, in any case. Shall not be les than 15 years.”22

Children and young adults demand a particular protection according to ILO, because a stressful work for wage impedes their necessary physical and mental development.

The Korean politics elevate beyond the international agreements in foster child labour with regards to the interests of the capital:

“Moreover, most of the employers had hesitated to employ those minor employees because employing the minors needed much red tapes in the procedures while they could not be put into works of regular 8 hours a day like other employees. Every minor wanting to be employed has a very much adverse conditions of living and that is why their employment requirement is so real.”23

Therefore, in the opinion of the South Korean government child labour is not a plight that has to be curbed by law. In contrary, the government has created the frame under which the minors are able to be exploited legally by the capitalistic enterprises.

Furthermore, the necessity of child labour is a result of the low level of wages in South Korea, which is also cemented by governmental politics of repression. We will see later within this study, that in many cases the income of the head of the family is not sufficient to enable the family to get a normal reproduction. Child labour is a result of the poverty of the family and of the demand of the capital which prefer unspoiled and easy disciplined work force to adults.

I.1.3. Summary

Looking back to the historian past it has been showed that long working times were common and that the highest working times were contributed by women and children.

The measures of the American interim government which were implemented after the decolonization in order to improve the working conditions were overridden step by step by the South Korean government to fulfill the requirements of well-functioning export oriented industrialization. So, with the new labor law (from 31.12.1980) the normal working day was abolished de facto and the working day for children was extended to eight hours. Therefore the actually protection needed people could be exploited for the benefit of the capital without governmental intervention.

The wage earners which are employed in small companies (until 15 employees), have not got any right for overtime payment, day-offs and for minimum social benefits. Even the night shifts for women and children are not forbidden in small companies.

Let us look at the empirical material, in order to get some information about the working time of the employees and the wage earners of the capital.

I.1.4. The Working Times of Employees

I.1.4.1. Comments to the existing statistical material

The following outline of the working times of the employees in South Korea are based on two different governmental sources: on the one hand the statistical office of the Economic Planning Board (from here on: EPB) publishes the Statistic Yearbook an overview, showing all employees by performed working hours. Because according the EPB definition all persons which are working at the minimum one hour a week for wage or profit and which are at the minimum 13 years old, deemed as employed, the statistic contents along with persons in permanent employment all daily paid persons and persons which are only casually employed. The average working hours, which is outline in table 1, don’t reflect the working hours of the permanent employed persons. A differentiation of the actually performed working hours is provided by table 2. However the hours groups which the EPB uses for breakdown is absurd, to indicate the height of the performed working hours of the majority of the regularly employed employees. The last indicated category, comprising 54 hours and more, contents the majority of the employees. The in sufficiency of the working time grouping is increased by considering that the average working times in the secondary and tertiary sectors are over 54 hours per week nearly without exception (f. e. 1977: 60,3 hours).

The information content of the Korean statistic is revealed exemplary hereby. The originally purpose of statistic to give enlightenment regarding the real length of the working day resp. the actually performed working hours, is therefore not willingly done.

A further problem of the statistic is the lacking distinction of the employees by the economic status they are working. The information of the working times of the employees by the three economic sectors, provided by the EPB, refers to all persons equally out of which source they gain their living. So, within the data there are the working times of the entrepreneurs, the small business self employed persons, wage earners of the capital and the isolated sector of the civil servants and last but not least the service staff of the capitalists.

On the other hand, we have the second statistical source which is available and applied in this study is issued by the ministry of labour. The data cover for 1980 approximately 2,700,000 persons working in 38,176 business companies. Ruled out are all firms with less than 10 regularly employees. Furthermore daily workers are not included in the survey.24

On the grounds that further the civil servants, including the military persons, are not captured in my opinion it is justified to relate the information of this statistic to the worker of the capital.25

It is assumable that the working times showed by the official statistic are less high as in reality. After the presentation of the official empirical data we will come back to reports of the affected workers to draw a picture of the real conditions.

I.1.4.2. Working hours per week by employees by economic sectors

In the table 1 the working hours of the employees by economic sectors are posted.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The table reveals that within the production and service sector the working times are very high. They are between 55 and 59 hours weekly from 1972 on. The working times of the employees within the service sector exceed those within the industrial sector and reach 59 hours a week.

The lowest working times are in the agriculture and forestry sector. Until 1973 within this sector people work less than 45 hours a week. A light increase of the working times is indicated from 1974. The relative low figures derive from the season fluctuations of the work demand on the fields. So the work load is higher in summer than in winter. The Korean agriculture doesn’t comprise livestock-breeding which would give employment to the farmers.

Furthermore the underemployment prevails more at urban regions than at rural areas. Therefore the average working times within the agricultural sector are lower than within the other sectors.

Within the table 1 the average weekly working times are displayed. The question arises whether some parts of the employees are working more than the average and on the other hand some employees are under employed.

In the table 2 the employees are listed by performed working hours.

Table 2: Percental distribution of employees by working hours per week and economic sectors between 1970 and 1980

illustration not visible in this excerpt

In 1970 20.4% of the employees are working within the agriculture and forestry. In 1980 the amount of these underemployed persons are reduced by half. There are still 9,4%. On the other hand in 1970 only 23% are working more than 54 hours per week, while in 1980 there are already 29.9%. The increase of the working times in the agricultural sector in the beginning of the 70s equals the decrease of the underemployed persons and at the same time an increase of the weekly working times of the full-time employed persons during the last 10 years.

The increase of the performed working time in the agricultural and forestry sector is bades upon two factors:

1. The largest effect comes from the planned reduction of the rural workforce. Along with the implementation of the industrial plants and the demand of the employers of young working forces, thousands leave the rural household to get work in the towns. The consequence was the increased working effort of the retained workforce on the country side.26
2. A further add-on to the working times is based upon the imposed work related to the “Saeumaul-Undong” movement, which was launched by president Park in 1971.

“Agricultural modernization campaigns have forced additional working hours upon the farmers without any effect on mitigating the poverty.”27

During the 70s the working times have been increased substantially. While in 1970 the average working times were very high in comparison to international standards the number increased over the 58 hours in the mid of the 70s (in 1076 the figure was 59 hours). We should remember that the normal working time according to the LSL was 48 hours per week, so with regarding the gap between law and reality the meaninglessness of the Korean labour law for the workers reveals.

If we look at the employees of the production sector and their weekly working times in the years 1970 and 1980 in comparison, a significant shift of the volume distribution towards the higher ranking categories gets obvious. The persons with less than 54 hours per week decreased until 1980, while conversely the persons with more than 54 hours increased.

In 1980 there are already 63 %. (In 1979 there are even 69 %.) The ‘normal’ working time in South Korea in the year 1980 amounts to at minimum of 54 hours per week. Based upon this we theoretically could derivate the definition of underdevelopment at a limit of 44 hours work per week. The actual amount of working hours per week for the main part of the employees is not possible to find out with the available statistical materials. Because the average values of the working times per week amount to almost 60 hours we have to conclude that a proportional large part of the employees of the industrial sector work far more than 54 hours per week.

In table 1 the highest working hours are reported for the service sector. As from 1973 the working times reach over 59 hours per week. While in 1970 51.6 % of the persons work more than 54 hours, in 1989 there are 60.8 %. The amount of the underemployed persons declines as well during the last 10 years. While in 1970 3.9 % work under 27 hours, in 1980 there are only 2.2 %.

Just in the service sector the employees are grouped together, however they strongly distinguish from the kind of working and by the economic form of their work. So, on the one hand there are the civil servants which get their salary out off the state income and on the other hand there are the capitalists of the trade of money and goods which gain their income from the generated profit. Alongside in between the service sector there are the wage earner of the capital, the personal service staff of the capitalists and from a quantitative point of view the main part of all, the small self-employed.

In 1980 41 % of the persons employed in the tertiary sector are self-employed and supporting family members.28 Therefore we can assume that the greatest differences in the working times of the employed persons are in between this economic sector.

The highest working hours will be performed by the small self-employed and their supporting family members. The majority of these persons is running a small restaurant, a so called cook shop or is employed in retail. The working hours of the runners of the small restaurants and the “flying sellers” reach often the whole active time of human being: so the cook shops are open the whole week from 8 in the morning until short before midnight (from 0:00 o’clock onwards the curfew begins in South Korea). The selling on the road lasts also until late in the night.29

The equally high working times of the people working on their own account are demanded of the personal service workers of the upper class. The personal servants are bound to personal working relationship ruled without working contract. The working conditions are different and depend on the ideas of the employers.

On contrast to the over average high working times of the small-sized own-account-workers and the personal service people the working times of the civil servants, bank employees and other qualified employees below 50 hours per week.

I.1.4.3. The working hours of the wage earners of capital

Table 3: work hours of the employees by economic sectors (1970-1980)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The working conditions of the employees in the electricity, gas, and water supply are as well relative low. During the last 10 years the weekly working hours had been often below 48. The increase in working hours in all industrial sectors in 1980 is given.

In order to look deeper into the working times of the industrial workers, within table 4 the working hours of these persons are shown by main industrial branches.

Table 4: average accomplished working hours of the industrial manufacturing workforce by industrial sector (1970-1980)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The working hours of the wage earners of the industrial capital amount to beyond 50 hours from 1970 to 1980, with the exception of some industrial branches in 1974 and 1975. The decrease of working times mid 70s based upon the decrease of export demand during that time.30

Generally the data of table 4 don’t show any significant differences in the working times between the different industrial branches. Within the work intensive sectors the working hours are not significant higher than in the capital intensive sectors. So for example the weekly working hours in the textile industry amount to 55 hours in 1980. With 54.7 hours per week in the capital intensive iron and steel industry the working times are relative equal.

In the metal production sector, machines and car industry as well as the electronic industry the lowest working times are shown. They amount to less beyond 50 hours per week as from 1972.

The highest working times are performed in the wood industry what indicates the natural conditions in this industry. In 1980 only 63,000 persons have been working in this sector (3 % of the wage earner of the industrial sector.

The homogeneity of the working times in the single industrial branches is an indicator of the progressive industrialization grade of South Korea. The mobility of the work force seems to be existent, so the extensity of the work can be balanced between the industrial sectors. The relative conformity of the working times is one factor in the balancing movement of the exploitation grade of the work force between the different branches. At another location of this study we will put the question if the wages of the industrial sectors have converged or diverged during the industrialization.

So long we have presented the working times by economic sectors and by industrial branches. It was shown that the lowest working times are in the service sector. The fact that in this sector of the South Korean economy there are more wage earners with a higher educational level employed than in other economic sectors motivates us to look after the magnitude of the educational level related to the working times. It is likely that the working times are decreasing with an increase of the educational level. In table 5 the working times of the wage earners of the capital are shown by educational level.

table 5: working hours of the workforce after the graduation from school (1980)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

It is shown that the employees with a higher educational level have performed far less working hours than the wage earners with only a general education. The former are working 47.1 hours per week while the latter have to work more than 55 hours.

The proportion of women decreases continuously with increased educational level. While the proportion of female employees with elementary and middle school educational level amounts to 49 % the proportion of women with a university grade amounts only to 7.4 %.

Because the fact that more men possess a higher education than women the working times of women are higher than the average of men.

As well the working times within the professional groups which require a higher education will be lower than such within professional groups which a general education is sufficient.

Table 6: working hours of the workforce of the capital by profession, gender and age (1980)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The data of table 6 show that the working hours of the scientific and technical employees and clerks in high-ranked administration positions (manager and similar) amount to less than 48 hours. In contrast to the former, the wage earners in production area achieve far-more than 50 hours: the female worker 56.2 the male 54.8 hours. An interim position is taken by the clerks. They work 49.1 hours per week, female and male office workers equally.

The highest proportion of female is given within the production sector, except the sales force which quantitative part is minor. The female workers contribute 43.9 % of the work force. Their weekly working times are 1.4 hours higher than of the male workers. Their average age amounts to 22.7 years, the age of the men amounts to 30.6 years. On the grounds of the difference in age it is supposed that the female workers will perform simple work in the production, while male workers are reserved to do supervisorial and control tasks or qualified work.

The difference in age by gender is more significant in the office sector than in the production sector. The female clerks contributing to 38 % of the office workers are 10 years younger than the male clerks. Therefore it is presumed that the female clerks are performing mainly inferior tasks like writing services.

In the service professions (f. e. chefs, hair dressers, cleaners) the female employees work less than the male employees. The working times of the female workers are 52 hours weekly and 54.1 hours for men and closely behind the working times which are performed within the production area.

In table 7 the production workers who counts for 1.755.000 persons and contribute 64.4 % of the wage earners of the capital should be regarded. Hereby it is very important to represent the female and male work force separately, because as we have seen from the prior table the female employees are working more than the male in average. In order to get a broader break-down of the workers by gender and by their performed working times, in table 7 the working times are grouped by wage groups additionally.

Table 7: Weekly Working Hours of Workforce by Wage Groups and by Gender (1980)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The data of table 7 show: The difference in working times between men and women is very crass. On the first sight it catches your eye that the women exceed the 60 hours mark while the working times reached barely the 56 hours. The quantitative proportion of the women working over 60 hours per week amounts to 20 % (79.2 % to 99.5 %).

Half of women (44.3 %) works beyond 56 hours – over the working times maximum of men. The correlation of the height of the working times and the wage groups reveals that women within the low wage groups have to work longer than average. To reach a wage level barely below 100,000 won (160 US $) women have to work over 62 hours a week.

Completely different is the relation of working time and payment among male employees. The height of the performed working hours differs only in between 1 or 2 hours per week, while the wage level is generally higher than those of women. The most hours per week the employees work in between the wage group beyond 150,000 won. The working hours amounts however only 56 hours in comparison to 62 hours among women.

A more detailed analysis of the wage differences by gender will follow in chapter 2. It can be put here yet that women earn less than men, however their working times far exceeds those of men.

After the conclusion that women posses less education than men – concluded from interpretation of table 4 – it seems likely that women working in production mainly do simple work.

I.1.4.4. Summary

The legally standard working week of 48 hours is not at any time reality during the 70s. The grounded data have shown that the standard working time amounts to beyond 50 hours weekly. Solely the wage earners with high education level are working less than 50 hours. In contrast the women in production have to work more than 60 hours per week. The comparison of the both official sources shows a general difference between the working times. The EPB states significant more working hours than the ministry of labour. With the available information the real height of working times in South Korea is not fixable with certainty.

Balancing the lack of statistics the male and female workers should report by themselves about their situation in the following chapter.

I.1.4.5. Illustrations to the working times

In Seoul at the area of “peace market” (“Chonggyecheon”) 1000 small textile companies are located in a huge building with three to four floors. In these companies more than 20,000 young workers are employed, about 90 % are female and between 14 to 24 years old. More than half are less 15 years old.

The economic importance of the here located textile and clothing industry is enormous:70 % of the domestic production of textile and clothing industry are produced within the area of the peace market. 1977 the production value of these goods amounts to 10 Billion US $.31

The working conditions in the small shops are catastrophic. Particularly hard hit are the young girls who are solely employed as assistant (“Shida” or “Hirodo”) often aged 13 or 14 years old, getting only a low payment calculated by the produced unit of the sewer.

“At a company some permanently employed women noticed, that an ‘assistant’ couldn’t afford a meal on the ground of poverty. They shared their meal with the girl and also were tracing the problem and came to the conclusion that 30 % of the female workers renounced their lunch. Herein lays the cause for stomach diseases and TBC.”32

To illustrate the miserable working conditions at the small textile factories, descriptions of the working situations from different sources are collected hereby:

“... in 1970, one half of the 27,000 person labour force in the Seoul garment industry was below 15 years of age and was working up to 16 hours a day wage of 30 cents. ... Many suffer from eye infections, tuberculosis, or pneumonia.”33

“In peak demand periods, they are frequently asked to work too or three days without any sleep. ... shop owners providing pep pills or injections to keep them awake. ...There are no checks on the ability of shop owners to exploit the workers.”34

Along with the long working times the bad conditions of location are denounced:

“... conditions are so bad that it is often impossible for workers even to stand up straight, due to additional floors being installed in the building to maximize space. It also reports the case of a factory near Seoul where workers were required to work shifts of up to 20 hours (8 a.m. to 4 a.m.).”35

The working conditions at the small textile factories were not getting better during the passing years. So there is testimony from an interview by female workers in the year 1980 that the night shift was required from the young girls on a regular basis:

“In the whole Seoul at the small ateliers of the textile industry around the ‘Dong Dae Mun’ market nothing has changed since our first inspection in 1971 ... the youngest barely older than 13 years; they don’t have even an labour permission. ... paid per unit, they gain 45,000 won or 50,000 won monthly working from 6 in the morning until 9 in the evening. ...’sometimes they are working also during the night because there are orders which have to be delivered’.”36

Not only in the small companies of the textile industry the female workers were forced to excessive long working times.

The female workers of the “Pangrim Textile Co.” employing ca. 6,000 workers describe their situation as following:

“In our factory we work three 8 shifts, but from when to when we do not know. ... we must start 30 to 60 minutes early and work until the job is finished. ... if we are supposed to finish by 10 p.m. we often get home just before curfew at 12 p.m. If we live in the dormitory, we sometimes work until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. ...

We do not receive a weekly holiday. We work continuously throughout the year, with only some of the public holidays off each year. ... Animals have an rest time, Why must we work harder than animals ? ... because we have no holidays, nightshift is too tiring and so our bodies are exhausted. Therefore we take ‘Timing’, a medicine to keep awake. Some of us have taken too many and now are addicted to these pills. If we fall asleep we are reprimanded and beaten, ... Because the machines run continuously we are so busy that sometimes we cannot have a meal break. ... We are ashamed to stay that we sometimes cannot go to the toilet, and so we use the factory floor. The machines never stop!”37

“Lotte Candy Company”, a joint venture with 2,600 employees forced the work staff to work 12 hours daily and 7 days weekly. Even on Saturdays the assembly lines remained not unutilized:

“All workers were supposed to have Sundays off, she said, she seldom did. Monday was too miserable if she was away on Sunday because the overseers were instructed to be hard on workers if they missed Sunday. ...”38

The working conditions outside the production area are not better for young girls without higher education.

The “bus girls” of the private transportation company in Seoul are working 18 hours daily. There tasks consist of collecting the fare and opening and closing the door manually. During their work they have seldom the chance to take a place and have to stand most of the time. A bus girl reports:

“We work from five in the morning to one or two o’clock at night. Then we return to the dormitory and sleep one or two hours. I am awaken by the head of the dormitory before four o’clock and leave for work I fall asleep in the galloping bus. I want to forget everything and leave everything.”39

I.1.5. Main investigation results of the working times

At the beginning of the industrialisation the working day was extended until the natural limits in the capitalistic metropoles. At this time the production process was organised as manufactory work. The amount of the performed working hours played a crucial role in the capital utilization. It was often said on humanitarian and social grounds that there was a necessity for reducing the working hours but the voluntary limitation of the work force exploitation of a single employer was not possible for reasons of completion.

With the usage of the big machinery within the production process the work was subordinated really to the capital. From there on a reducing of working time was possible from the point of view of the profit-oriented capitalist. With the increasing organic consistence of the capital the profit realisation conditions of each capital was no longer depend on the exceeding extension of the work. The standardisation of the working day through punitive law generalised the profit realisation conditions. In the abbreviated working day the general form of value generation plays no longer the decisive role. The relative value production gains central magnitude with the progress of capitalistic industrialisation. With the usage of the big machinery a cost cutting of the variable capital and therefore an increase of the value rate despite the reduction of the working time was reached.

We have seen that the standardisation of the working day was contrarily to the history of the working day within the capitalistic metropolises. In South Korea, the working day was extended although the applied technology was advanced. The reinforced exploitation of the working force through an increase of extensity of work was realised despite advanced industrialised basis. The homogeneity within the amount of weekly working times in various industrial sectors can be taken as a proof for the generalised extension of the working times.

The development of the working day for women in South Korea is distinguished from it in England and Prussia in the passed century. While the working times for women and children in the capitalistic metropolises were diminished by law at first, in South Korea we have the opposite case. Here, women have to work longer than men furthermore. Even the absolute long working times are until now not ruled out for child labour.

At international comparison the working times in South Korea are absolutely the highest. The lowest working times were performed by employees with high qualification (scientist and technical staff). The highest working times were performed by young women within the production sector. According to the reports of the working women we have seen that the length of the working day is often connected to the production goals of the employers. In times of urgent export deals the working times exceeding the natural limits of human beings were demanded from working women. The attrition of the working force has to be beyond the level indicated from the average weekly working times.

I.2. Intensity of Work

Aside the work extensity we have to look at its intensity, because both figures determine the exploitation rate and therefore also the attrition rate of the work force. Value related extensity and intensity effect equally, because with the intensification of the work process a huge amount of work in a defined time period is compressed.

The metric of the degree of compression inbetween the working hour is empirically not determined exactly. Two essential traits serve as an indicator of the work intensity: it is the work speed and the wideness of the work field (for example the amount of machines the work force has to monitor).

With the standardisation of the working day by punitive law in the capitalistic metropoles there was firstly set up the possibility to intensity work, because high extensity and high intensity are opposite and exclusionary effects of exploitation. The application of the big machinery and the economic usage of the means of production and finally the shortening of the working day enforce the intensification of work.

We have learned from the previous chapters that the length of the working day in South Korea is absolutely very high. Contrarily to the shortening of the working day in the capitalistic metropoles the working force in South Korea could not enforce a standardisation of the working day. In contrast the working day was extended actually during the 70s.

Since the extensity in South Korea is very high one would assume that the intensity is low. There are sufficient hints that in South Korea the intensity is very high despite the high extensity.

In the textile and garment industry the productivity (amount of produced units per working hour) is almost equal to the west European textile industry although in South Korea are applied used sewing machines that means machines which are not at the newest technological level. The low technological level of the machine equipment has to balanced by high intensity of work.

From plant visits one get the impression of a high working speed.40 The work organisation as a result of applied technology leads to the same outcome. The production process is fragmented into single working steps which are confined to simple tasks. The monotony working process can be carried out within short learning-on-the-job period and a provided rhythm. The optimal working speed will be reached by the perpetually repeating of the same moving (training of determined moving). Assembly work or hand-to-hand-work is the organisational work structure which dictates the working speed the producer. The form of payment (piece-work wage) disposes workers to use every minutes of the working time in a productive manner. The monotony of work stresses dedicated brain, muscles and nerves. The stress of work by the endurable performing of simple and equal doings is enormous. The stupid work is particularly for children a hinder for the mental development.

The attrition of workforce will be unequal higher than it was in the west metropolises. The extensive exploitation comes along with the intensive. The amount of added work that means the part of work the worker has to perform beyond the part he needs for reproduction is exponentiated by the added work intensity. The absolute value production reaches a higher value as in the capitalistic metropolises where the relative value production prevails.


1 “Mayor Statistics of Korean Economy”, EPB, RoK, 1981

2 These three approaches are stated in: Senghaas, D., “Von Europa lernen. Entwicklungspolitische Betrachtungen”, Frankfurt a. M., 1982, S. 258

3 See for example Kim, K. Römer, M.: “Growth and Structural Transformation. Studies in the Industrialization of the Republic of Korea, 1945 – 1975”,Cambridge, 1979

4 See for example Luther, Hans Ulrich: „Südkorea (k)ein Modell für die Dritte Welt“, München 1981

5 See for example Schweers, R.: „Kapitalistische Entwicklung und Unterentwicklung. Voraussetzungen und Schranken der Kapitalakkumulation in ökonomisch schwach entwickelten Ländern“, Frankfurt a. M., 1980 and Hurtienne, T.: „Peripherer Kapitalismus und autozentrierte Entwicklung. Zur Kritik des Erklärungsansatzes von Dieter Senghaas“, in: ProKla, Bd. 71, Heft 44, 1981, S. 105 – 135.

6 Frankfurter Rundschau on 9/2/1979 [dd/mm/yy]

7 Compare Chao Lien Lincoln: “Distinctive Patterns of Industrial Relations in Korea”, (Diss.) University of Minnesota, 1956, page 80

8 In year 1942 over 90 percent of the industrial enterprises, 88 percent of the financial companies and over 70 percent of the big retail stores belonged to the Japanese. See Chao page 19

9 Chao Lien Lincoln: “Distinctive Patterns of Industrial Relations in Korea”, (Diss.) University of Minnesota, 1956, page 80

10 Chao Lien Lincoln: “Distinctive Patterns of Industrial Relations in Korea”, (Diss.) University of Minnesota, 1956, page 84

11 The law concerning the regulation for working times is named “Ordinance Number 121”; the detailed provisions are laid out in Chao Lien Lincoln: “Distinctive Patterns of Industrial Relations in Korea”, (Diss.) University of Minnesota, 1956, page 88

12 „Violation of the provisions were rampant; and in general the overtime work was not compensated for at the required premium rate.“ Chao Lien Lincoln: “Distinctive Patterns of Industrial Relations in Korea”, (Diss.) University of Minnesota, 1956, page 90

13 „Labour Standard Law“, Republic of Korea, Law No. 286, Promulgated 15/05/1953; the law is shown completely in Chao Lien Lincoln: “Distinctive Patterns of Industrial Relations in Korea”, (Diss.) University of Minnesota, 1956, page 199

14 Campare chapter 46 of LSL; the overtime hours which should be paid as 150% of the normal wage are the working hours on Sundays and Holidays and during the night (22:00 – 06:00). The daily overtime work beyond the normal working day are not paid as overtime work.

15 Since 8th April 1981 an autarc Ministry of Labour has been available. Until then labour related issues have been managed by “Ministry of Social Affairs”.

16 Compare chapter 46 of LSL; herewith it is legalised that children with the age of 13 years are working 54 hours in a week.

17 See chapter 45 - 49 of LSL

18 LSL, No. 3349, 31/12/1980, chapter 42, 1

19 LSL, chapter 42, 3

20 LSL, chapter 42, 2

21 LSL, chapter 55, 1 and 2

22 See Convention No. 138, ILO, Genf, 26/06/1973; here cited: chapter 2, 3; in: E. Mendelievich: „Children at work“, ILO, Genf, 1979, page 147

23 Labour Law – why and what are changed“, Ministry of Labour, RoK, 1981, page 57

24 The sample of the labour statistics encompasses 3,865 companies. Only the enterprises with 10 and more employees are considered. The agricultural firms, fishery, and forestry are not included. Temporarly workers and daily workers are deemed regular workers as long as they have worked 45 days in the last 3 month periode. See „Yearbook of Labour Statistics“, Minitry of Labour, 1981, page 387.

25 In the year 1979 the working class in South Korea amounts to 5,808,000 persons. From this are 2,760,000 workers of the capital (18% of the employees) and 1,623,000 workers in the isolated production area (these are working in enterprises with less than 10 employees). The 1,425,000 daily workers are considered as marginal people and deem unsustainable part of the working class; see Joachim Prey: „Die Sozialstructur Südkoreas im Rahmen der exportorientierten Industrialisierung“ (Diplomarbeit) FU Berlin, November 1982

26 [26] 1968 6.02 persons belonged to farm households while 1976 it were 5.65. The size of the farm land was remained constantly the same. In 1968 the average farm household possesses 1.999 hectare and in 1968 1.962., see Ban, Moon, Perkins: “Rural Development”, Harvard University, London 1980, page 73

27 Luther, Hans-Ulrich: „Regierungskampagnen in Südkorea – Ein erfolgreiches Entwicklungsmodell?“, in Song-Du-Yul: „Wachstum, Diktatur und Ideologie in Korea“, Bochum 1980, page 85

28 See „Annual Report of the Economicly Active Population survey”, EPB, 1980, page 129

29 This information are based my own experiences during my field research in August and September 1981.

30 In 1973 the growth rate of export reached 80.2% In 1974 it fell to 44.7% and in 1975 to 15.2%, see “Major Statistics of Korean Economy”, EPB, 1981, page 194

31 The information comes from an interview with a German manager of textile industry company conducting by myself..

32 Lenz, Ilse: „Flammen am ‚Markt des Friedens‘, Arbeiterinnen im Schatten der Internationalen Arbeitsteilung werden aktiv.“, in: Song, page 129

33 Gittings, John, McCormack, Gavan (Eds.): „Crises in Korea“, London, 1977, page 63

34 Kim Chang Soo: „Marginalization, Development and the Korean Workers Movement“, in: AMPO, IX, 3, 1977, page 34

35 Gittings, John, McCormack, Gavan (Eds.): „Crises in Korea“, London, 1977, page 68

36 See „Le Monde“, 20/01/1980, translated in English by myself.

37 „The Plight of Korean Factory Workers“, unpublished document of the Urban Industrial Mission (U.I.M.), 1977

38 „Talking with workers in Korea“, unpublished document, November 1980

39 Kim C. S., page 34

40 [40] During my field research in South Korea I have visited the following companies: Shin Jin Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. (bulbs production; Goldstar – Tele-electric (Joint venture with Siemens), (Telephone production); Korea Zipper Co. Ltd. (zipper production); Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. Ltd. (ship building); see the excursion report which is given to the Institute of Sociology, Free University of Berlin, Berlin (West)

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The Working and Living Conditions in South Korea in the stage of the export-oriented Industrialization (1965-1980)
Free University of Berlin
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Korea, South Korea;, working conditions, living conditions, export-oriented industrialization, export-oriented development, social conditions
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Kurt Lehberger (Author), 1984, The Working and Living Conditions in South Korea in the stage of the export-oriented Industrialization (1965-1980), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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