South Korea Announces Steps To Boost Workforce

Will extend retirement age and shorten military service.

Faced with a rapidly ageing population, South Korea on Feb. 5 announced wide-ranging measures -- including extending the retirement age and shortening compulsory military service -- to boost its workforce. "Due to the low birthrate and the fast-ageing population, the growth of the working-age population has slowed recently and a labor shortage is expected to materialize from around 2010," the Office for Government Policy Coordination said.

The birthrate fell to 1.08 in 2005, the world's lowest and well short of the 2.1 rate deemed to be the minimum population replacement level.

The government said it would push to extend the retirement age by around five years and revise the education system to advance the job entry age by two years from the current 25. The average retirement age is currently around 57.

Additionally, the government said it will support job costs for bosses who postpone their workers' retirement and ease discriminatory rules against older workers.

The government will consider extending the age of state pension fund beneficiaries by five years to 65 by 2033.

Prime Minister Han Myeong-Sook, quoted by Yonhap news agency, said the planned cut in military service is part of the overall campaign. The new system will eventually reduce the army's two-year service to 18 months, with the length for the navy and the air force to be cut by a quarter to 20 months and 21 months, respectively. The reduction will begin next year, defense officials said. All fit adult males must serve in the 680,000-strong military, which faces an estimated 1.1 million North Korean troops across the world's last Cold War frontier. Some conscripts and their parents say the mandatory service is a waste of time, a claim which President Roh Moo-Hyun appeared to support.

Retired soldiers counter this saying that shorter terms could put the nation at risk from a nuclear-armed North Korea. The main opposition party accuses the government of trying to win the youth vote with its changes.

Han said a broader service system would be introduced for those unable to serve in the military, involving working in hospices or other designated social services.

South Korea has announced plans to cut its military to 500,000 by 2020, while upgrading its weaponry.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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