September 02, 2023 08:29
A growing number of young women work on building sites, which have long been considered an exclusively male domain in Korea and elsewhere.
According to the Construction Workers Mutual Aid Association, the number of women under 40 working on construction sites increased 20 percent over the last three years to 321,691 last year. Over the same period, the total number of temporary workers at construction sites grew from 1.56 million to 1.63 million.
The increase in the number of female construction workers is attributed to a decline in service sector jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.
The state-run Korea Development Institute said in a 2021 report that the number of employed women in the core working age group of 25 to 54 declined by 541,000 in March 2020, while the number of employed men in the group fell by only 327,000.
One 22-year-old woman who has been laying tiles for four months, began doing the work after taking out a W10 million loan last year to buy a used car (US$1=W1,319).
"I used to make W2.5 million a month working in a factory that makes coronavirus self-test kits but was laid off. Then I found work in a mobile phone factory, but was laid off again," she said. "So I decided to work on a construction site because I couldn't handle my swelling debt. Now, I make W3.5 million a month and managed to pay off all but W2 million of my debt."
She has to haul 45 kg bags of tiles but enjoys the work. "Construction work pays more than other jobs," she added.
Another benefit is getting off at 5 o'clock every day. One 31-year-old woman who graduated from a university with a degree in children's education worked as a kindergarten teacher and tutor but lost her job in the pandemic.
"I began working as a safety supervisor on a building site a year ago, where I start work at 8 a.m. and finish at 5 p.m.," she said. "My pay rose from W2 million a month to W4 million. I plan to marry my boyfriend and this job suits a housewife because it leaves the evenings free to raise a child."
The presence of women is changing the entire surrounding landscape. A growing number of street vendors near construction sites now cater to women in their 20s and 30s.
One 39-year-old street vendor said, "These days, one out of every 20 construction workers appear to be a woman, so I'm going to sell ice cream, which is popular among young women."
But there are drawbacks. One 25-year-old college graduate who found work at a building site after failing to land an office job said, "There is a shortage of toilets for women, and it's also tough putting up with wolf whistles and men commenting on my looks all the time."
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