The number of workers, especially young ones in their twenties, who receive the so-called “passion pay” has sharply increased in recent years, according to recent statistics. Young job seekers have coined the term “passion pay,” which refers to the reality where interns and newbies are supposed to be passionate enough to put up with poor treatment and low wages that hover below minimum wage set by the government, 6,030 won per hour. This practice has already become prevalent not only in private companies but also public institutions and non-government organizations. Despite low possibilities of being hired as a regular worker after working with “passion pay,” most youths believe or hope that their experiences of working as an intern ― as many times as possible ― will put them ahead of their peers in the job market.
There have been several cases where their passion was abused to an extreme extent. Last year, “WeMakePrice,” a popular social commerce website, came under criticism that it had exploited its 11 probationary employees. A prominent fashion designer, Lee Sang-bong, was also found to have paid only 100,000 won to his trainees, including their overtime pay, for a month. Although numerous cases have come to the front, the government’s efforts to crack down these businesses and prevent “passion pay” seem to be ineffective.
Last semester, I have worked as an intern over five months at a small company, receiving “passion pay.” Working from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., I not only had to work overtime quite often, but also was given neither time nor expense for dinner. When I heard from my employer about my wage at the first place, the only thing I could do to take the position was to accept “passion pay” and work “passionately.”
When I asked for an advice and help at Ministry of Employment and Labor, there were only few options I could take. Sue my employer after the contract period ends, or put up with the “passion pay,” or request my employer to raise the amount I receive. Surprisingly, the advice that the consultant gave me was putting up with the current situation, saying that my contract period is short. Pondering upon all three options, I ended up putting up with my situation, which was a choice that will result in more “passion pay” workers after my contract is over.
I believe that exploiting young jobseekers under the name of “passion pay” has been able to continue as it gives no other option for young people. Just like what I have experienced, young jobseekers including myself are aware of poor treatment and low wages. However, what else can they do other than accepting the position? There is another newly coined term called “gold intern,” meaning that an intern position is as valuable as gold. For young jobseekers, an opportunity to work as an intern is seizing an opportunity to earn gold.
Also, negligence of the older generation also contributes to their pitiful conditions. Those who directly benefit from the conditions want to continue to exploit weaknesses of young jobseekers, which others do not wish to be involved in an irreverent issue.
It is intolerable to exploit young people on the pretext of providing them opportunities to learn and gain experience. Suitable payments should be made for their passion.
The number of youth in their twenties applying for debt rescheduling is increasing, according to recent statistics. This shows that more and more university students are already financially burdened with expensive tuitions and living expenses even before they enter the working society. The older generation, especially employers, should recognize that taking advantage of weaknesses and difficulties is as same as selling their conscience.