Are Korean Lawmakers Overpaid?

  • By Kim Kyeong-pil

    July 22, 2022 12:58

    The National Assembly reopened on Wednesday after a 52-day break due to a feud between the ruling and opposition parties, but lawmakers got paid their W12.85 million monthly salaries without any hitch (US$1=W1,311).

    Since they get paid on the 20th of every month, there has been some uproar that they got a full month's pay for working just one day.

    Many feel that Korean lawmakers are overpaid anyway. They take home W154.26 million a year -- W107.22 million in salary plus W47.04 million in activity allowances.

    On top of that, each lawmaker received W101.53 million in support funding this year. That includes W3.48 million a year for operational support and W5.19 million to buy office supplies, W1.46 million a month for gasoline and car maintenance, W950,000 for communication and mail expenses and W180,000 to support their secretaries' offices.

    They can also claim business travel spending of up to W7.37 million a year and up to W44.7 million to fund law-drafting and policy development costs. Taxpayers also cover their costs to set up and maintain their own websites and publish other official documents. Each lawmaker's office receives around W500 million for staff. They can retain eight aides plus interns.

    That means each lawmaker's office spends more than W750 million a year in taxpayers' money. 

    A meeting room in the National Assembly in Seoul is empty on Wednesday.

    Their salaries are never docked when the National Assembly went on a hiatus. Several bills have been proposed to dock lawmakers' pay if they miss meetings, but the bills never made it to a plenary session.

    In money terms Korean lawmakers' pay is no different to their peers in advanced countries. U.S. lawmakers earn US$174,000 a year, but America's per-capita gross national income was $70,430 last year, more than twice Korea’s.

    British members of the House of Commons earn 84,144 pounds a year (around W103.3 million), and members of the upper House of Lords are only paid a daily allowance when they turn up. Lawmakers in France are paid 89,917 euros a year (around W121 million), in Germany W120,154 euros (around W161 million) and in Japan 12.42 million yen (around W118 million), but all of those countries have a higher per-capita GNI than Korea.

    That means lawmakers in these advanced nations make between 2.1 times to 2.5 times more than the average income, but in Korea the ratio is 3.36 times.

    In some advanced countries, lawmakers have either voluntarily frozen or even slashed their salaries during economic crises or pandemics. U.S. lawmakers' salaries have been frozen since 2009 in the wake of the global financial crisis. Japanese lawmakers voluntarily cut their annual expenditures by 20 percent this year to share the pain of the coronavirus pandemic.

    In contrast, Korean lawmakers who pitched slashing their salaries during election season have then gone on to hike them without fail every year since 2018.

    Most assemblies in advanced countries do not set their own wages. In the U.K., an independent body does it, while the salaries of German parliamentarians are determined by the average national wage. In Korea, however, a National Assembly committee makes the decision. 

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