Bill aims to revive incentives for job seekers with military background

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, June 11 (Yonhap) -- In a move expected to spark controversy, conservative lawmakers and the defense ministry are pushing to revive a military service law ruled unconstitutional 14 years ago that gave incentives to job seekers with a military background, a ministry official said Tuesday.

All able-bodied South Korean men are obligated to serve in the military for at least two years as the country still remains at war with North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a ceasefire. Most of them are in their early 20s and are forced to delay their studies to join the armed forces.

Under the original law, male applicants with military backgrounds had received additional points on exams required when applying for most jobs in South Korea. However, the law was ruled unconstitutional in 1999, as it was considered discriminatory against women and the disabled.

Since then, conservative lawmakers have proposed alternative bills to give extra points to job seekers with military experience, but they faced staunch opposition from women's rights groups and civic activists.

In November 2011, a group of 12 lawmakers led by Rep. Han Ki-ho of the ruling Saenuri Party submitted a revision bill to grant extra points equivalent to 2 percent of the total score on exams for government organizations, civilian employee positions in military installations, schools, private companies and organizations.

Considering the past law was ruled unconstitutional due to excessive benefits, the pending bill limits the number of people who can pass the exam with additional points to below 20 percent of the total number of job openings.

While the legislative subcommittee for the parliamentary defense committee is expected to review the bill during this month's special session, the defense ministry will submit an alternative revision that reduces the total number of incentive beneficiaries below 10 percent of job openings and limits the total number and period of incentives with a presidential decree, the ministry official said.

"The defense ministry will push to adopt the incentive system to compensate soldiers who serve the country," said Lee Nam-woo, who takes charge of the ministry's welfare department. "We are currently reviewing the revision bill, and will draw up a detailed plan after closely consulting with related agencies, including the Ministry of Gender Equality and the Ministry of Security and Public Administration."

As the gender equality ministry opposes to the incentive system citing the rights of women and the disabled, Lee said both sides will have to find a middle ground that can compensate those who served for the country in a range that does not excessively infringe upon the rights of others.

"As this issue needs social consensus, we will prepare various alternative plans and discuss with opponents the alternatives," Lee said, noting the ministry will submit a proposal to parliament later this month.

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