Pro-labor party roiled by membership fee
By Lee Tae-hoon
The minor opposition United Progressive Party (UPP), the nation’s most vocal parliamentary group for labor rights, is facing an internal feud over the wages of lawmakers and their staff members.
The conflict stems from the left-leaning party’s push to mandate its legislators and their aides to cough up the majority of their wages as “a special party membership fee.”
“In a Central Party Committee meeting to be held on May 12, our party plans to revise regulations that would authorize its decision-making Supreme Council members to decide how big a financial contribution the lawmakers and their assistants should pay,” Han Kyeong-seok, a director of the UPP, said.
One of the UPP’s official documents dated on April 27 also confirms that there has been a dispute within the party over the mandatory payment of the special fees by lawmakers and their aides.
Currently, six of the seven incumbent UPP lawmakers and their aides pay all except for a small portion of the money that they receive as public servants to their pro-labor party as special membership fees.
Party insiders say the six legislators, hailing from the former Democratic Labor Party (DLP), receive only 2.7 million won ($2,392) a month though their monthly official income is about 10 million won.
The DLP launched the UPP ahead of the April 11 National Assembly elections by merging with two smaller left-leaning opposition parties.
“DLP lawmakers used to receive only 2.3 million won until there was a decision to give them a raise of 400,000 won last year,” a party source said. “Rep. Hong Hee-deok, who quit his job as a street cleaner to become a lawmaker, used to make much more money.”
He and other party insiders lamented that the former DLP legislators’ aides have seen no pay raise and continue to receive only between 1.9 million won and 2.3 million won per month depending on their age and the number of dependents, rather than their qualifications or official income.
“Our party has lost many of the highly skilled professionals, such as certified labor attorneys and seasoned lawmakers’ aides, as it has insisted on a minimum pay to all its workers,” a senior aide to a former DLP lawmaker said on the condition of anonymity.
“I’m hesitant to work for a lawmaker for another four years due to such low pay and lack of incentives for dedicating my talent and experience to legislative activities.”
Each lawmaker is allowed to hire nine assistants, including two public servants at a pay grade of four, whose official monthly salary is 5.61 million won, and two others with at grade five with a monthly wage of 4.85 million won.
Some of the assistants to the 13 elected legislators of the UPP argue that their party should reconsider taking back the majority of their income as party membership fees.
“Not all of us are originally from the DLP and share the spirit of equal pay regardless of performance and qualifications,” a lawmaker’s aide originally from the minor opposition New Progressive Party said.
Some of the UPP lawmakers-elect also expressed dissatisfaction over their party’s unilateral move to take away most of their and their assistants’ income.
“None of the party officials have informed me that it will be a must for me and my assistants to cough up the majority of our income,” said a lawmaker-elect, whose originally party affiliation was not the DLP.