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[News Focus] 3 in 10 women from NK earn less than W1.5m a month

Monthly income under 1 million won for 1 in 7 female defectors

North Korean refugees take a class at the Korea Hana Foundation, where they stay for a certain period before entering the society in the South. (Reuters file photo)
North Korean refugees take a class at the Korea Hana Foundation, where they stay for a certain period before entering the society in the South. (Reuters file photo)

SEJONG -- The nation’s per capita gross national income came to $32,047 last year, according to the Bank of Korea.

This is equivalent to 37.33 million won a year and 3.11 million won a month on average, based on the 2019 exchange rate.

But North Korean refugees residing in the South were still earning far less than that. The number of refugees from the North is approaching 35,000 on a cumulative basis.

The data from Statistics Korea showed that one out of every two (49.9 percent) of the salaried workers from North Korea were paid less than 2 million won a month in 2019. On the basis of the current value of the weak local currency, 2 million won is set at $1,633.

The portion was bigger among women, as 63.3 percent of the female refugees reported monthly incomes of below 2 million won, while the corresponding percentage for men was 16.6 percent.

The portion of workers among female defectors, who were paid less than 1.5 million won reached 30.6 percent. Further, 14.1 percent of the women saw their monthly wage stay under 1 million won.
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)

This means that 3 out of every 10 women were paid under 1.5 million, and 1 out of every 7 women -- under 1 million won, both of the brackets fall short of the nation’s statutory minimum wage for full-time workers.

While the data represented women were suffering more difficulty than men, 30.8 percent of the female defectors were paid between 2 million won and less than 3 million, and only 5.9 percent, 3 million won or more.

In total, the average wage for women from the North stood at 1.75 million won, which is about the level of the minimum wage, 1.74 million (8,350 won per hour), as of 2019.

“Many of them are paid less than the minimum wage on a monthly basis. This means employment as a nonregular job status for part-time works, or being treated poorly despite the status as full-time employees,” said a labor market researcher.

He said it was not easy for the defectors to attain stable jobs in the South, calling for the government to widen opportunities for them and take more attention to their salaries.

According to Statistics Korea, the growth of average monthly wage for female refugees was meager – 1.75 million in 2019, 1.65 million won in 2018 and 1.53 million won in 2017 – compared to that of consumer prices or the minimum wage (1.74 million in 2019, 1.57 million in 2018 and 1.35 million in 2017).

Nonetheless, this contrasts with the figures for male defectors -- 2.77 million won in 2019, 2.49 million won in 2018 and 2.39 million won in 2017.

The collective figure for both men and women was 2.04 million won in 2019, 1.89 million won in 2018 and 1.78 million won in 2017.

By job, those working for the services industry -- like restaurant employees -- were paid the lowest, averaging 1.54 million last year. The monthly wage for 45.7 percent of those working for the sector was under 1.5 million won, while a dominant portion of them are estimated be women.

By generation, those (both for men and women) in their 30s were paid the most at 2.25 million won, followed by those in their 50s with 2.037 million won, those in their 40s with 2.031 million won and those in their 20s with 1.95 million won.

The incomes for those aged between 15-19 and those aged 60 or over were quite low at 771,000 won and 1.55 million won, respectively.

By Kim Yon-se (