Covid leads Seoul to trial run sick leave
by Guido Alberto Casanova

In South Korea there is no national legislation that recognises the right to sick leave. Now a pilot project is introducing coverage for all in five cities and one district of the capital. The pandemic brought the problem to light as employees infected with the Coronavirus showed up at work to avoid losing their income.



Seoul (AsiaNews) - Along with the United States, South Korea is one of only two OSCE countries where there is no legislation recognising the right to sick pay for workers. It is often the companies themselves that remedy this shortcoming by including the recognition of the allowance in the contractual terms, but this practice is not universally applied. For those workers who are not covered, any illness or injury not related to their work results in a loss of income due to the absence of social security. However, this is expected to change in the coming years.

Now, as of 4 July, a pilot project has gone into effect in five cities of the country and in Seoul's central Jongno-gu district, which provides for the introduction of a sickness or accident allowance to anyone who resides in the six zones or who works for one of the 105 companies participating in the project, even if they live outside the designated zones. The compensation will be paid from the national social welfare budget and is calculated as follows: for each hour of absence from work, the worker will be paid 60 per cent of the minimum wage, up to a maximum of 43,968 won per day, approximately 33 euros. Any type of illness or injury ascertained by a doctor will be accepted by the authorities, with the exception of some special cases such as plastic surgery, which are beyond medical reasons.

Each of the six zones will apply different criteria for about a year, in order to evaluate the efficiency of the different pilot programmes. Some cities will only recognise hospitalisation cases as qualifying for protection. The timing of the payment of the allowance and the maximum number of days will also vary from case to case. By 2025, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare hopes to extend the system to the whole country.

The need to introduce such a system was felt during the pandemic, when many workers were unable to maintain their income because they were affected by Covid-19. Announcing the launch of the programme, Home Minister Lee Sang-min said that 'in the wake of large waves of infections, such as Covid-19, it has become important to build social conditions in which workers can remarry and recover if they are sick'.

The introduction of such a system has become necessary since the government has recently been considering removing the mandatory seven days of self-isolation for those infected. A survey conducted by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs reported that only 46% of employees took sick leave in 2021. Without compensation, there is a risk that employees infected with Covid-19 will still decide to report for work in order not to lose their income.