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Military duty employment plan under fire

Women, disabled people oppose what they call ‘discriminatory’ system


Controversy is growing over a system the Defense Ministry seeks to revive to give extra points in recruitment exams to those who have fulfilled their military duty, as women’s groups and disabled people continue their opposition.

The ministry has been working to gain parliamentary approval for the system, contending that soldiers should be compensated for completing military duty, which lasts up to two years.

But people excluded from military duty, such as women and disabled people, argue that the system will limit their employment opportunities, and that other “nondiscriminatory” welfare programs should be chosen.

The system was launched in 1966 to help those discharged from the military to adapt to civilian life. It was abolished in 1999 after the Constitutional Court ruled that it infringed on the rights of women and disabled people.

Under the bill currently in parliament, ex-soldiers would receive extra points not exceeding 2 percent of their scores in written tests mainly at government organizations and public agencies. The proportion of those admitted thanks to the extra points system must not exceed 20 percent of total recruitment.

Under the abolished law, the extra points had ranged from 3 to 5 percentage points depending on the person’s length of service. There had been no limit on the proportion of people who could be recruited with the system’s help.

Created to resolve the unconstitutionality, the bill passed the National Assembly’s defense committee in December 2008. But it is still pending at its judiciary committee due to vehement opposition from women’s groups and other groups.

“Such extra points are the most effective and symbolic compensation and will help bolster their pride for their sacrifice in the military,” retired Army Lieut. Gen. Kim Il-saeng, in charge of personnel and welfare affairs at the ministry, told The Korea Herald.

“The biggest disadvantage for the soldiers is a loss of opportunities for the two-year period, during which time they could have gained a master’s degree, or five or six national certificates, or accumulated a considerable amount of money. Such a loss of opportunities should be compensated by offering other opportunities.”

The physically challenged and women argue that the government should devise other measures to support ex-soldiers rather than trying to revive an unconstitutional system.

They particularly pointed out that the system would not benefit the majority of those who have completed military service as data showed less than 1 percent of them secured jobs at government bodies through the system.

“The state can offer to them financial benefits or other welfare services. Disabled people prefer to enter public service as many private firms shun them. Should such extra points be granted, it would become more difficult for the disabled to land jobs in the public sector,” Rep. Jeong Ha-gyun of the Future Hope Alliance party told The Korea Herald.

As an alternative, people have suggested a series of ideas, including soldiers’ monthly pay during mandatory military service, exempting them from paying interest on student loans while in service and enrolling them in the national pension program for the service period.

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family has apparently been at odds with the Defense Ministry over the revival of the system.

Last Thursday, the Defense Ministry planned to announce results of its public survey on the system, in which more than 70 percent of citizens are said to have approved of its revival. However, it canceled the announcement abruptly, saying it had yet to bridge differences with the Gender Ministry.

“We don’t think that it is appropriate to rehash the issue and trigger ‘wasteful’ debates over it again. It is under discussion now in the political circles. We feel uneasy to see different ministries voice different opinions like this,” said a Gender Ministry official, declining to be named.

“As a ministry in charge of affairs of adolescents who are to join the military soon, we, of course, are in favor of measures to benefit those who have been discharged. But it is not right to reopen an unnecessary debate over what was once ruled unconstitutional.”

Currently, any able Korean man must serve either about 21 months in the Army, 23 months in the Navy, or 24 months in the Air Force to maintain the 650,000-strong military that serves mainly as a deterrent against North Korea.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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