The National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Korea (NHRCK) announced yesterday that there is a need for policy improvements at the Ministry of Health and Welfare regarding the labor conditions of senior caregivers’.
Senior caregivers have been implemented since the Long Term Care Insurance Program was implemented in July 2008. Caregivers assist in long-term, around-the-clock care of mainly the elderly, but also those with dementia and/or stroke patients. The caregivers are given the responsibility of aiding in hygiene maintenance, nutrition and medical assistance, exercise, basic household chores, and also care for the psychological well-being of the assisted.
Senior caregivers are usually divided into two categories; house-visiting caregivers and nursing home caregivers. All these caregivers are all in a similar difficult and unstable work environment.
53 Hours Per Week of Work But Minimum Wage
According to a 2010 survey conducted by the Korea Women’s Trade Union on senior caregivers’ labor situations, the work hours of nursing home caregivers was approximately 53 hours per week. This greatly exceeds South Korea’s set weekly labor limit of 40 hours. In addition, 41.8% of all nursing home caregivers said their work was constant, around the clock and/or once every two days.
Furthermore, according to the Senior Welfare Act, one nursing home caregiver is to be appointed to approximately 2.5 seniors. However, in reality, it has been shown that each nursing home caregiver takes care of approximately 9.7 seniors during the day, and a larger number of 16.5 seniors during the night.
Additionally, the physical work environment for senior caregivers does not provide any recreational facilities. In more than 33% of all cases, senior caregivers said they had no place to eat a meal properly, and in 54% of all cases, they said they had to eat and rest in the actual medical areas where the assisted were.
An already highly lacking and difficult work environment is exacerbated by the fact that these senior caregivers work for 6000~7000 won per hour (approximately 6-7 US dollars per hour). Most of the time, because there are no additional bonuses nor reimbursements of meal expenses, and because all expenses are usually included in the wage, in reality, senior caregivers work for a wage equal to that of 2011′s national minimum wage; 4,320 won (approximately 4 US dollars).
In some cases, several caregiving organizations had even abused the weekly labor limit law; any work pursued after the 40 hour work limit is to be considered as non-payed work accomplished during off-duty time’. A caregiver can work 12 hours, and during that time, he/she may be able to get a mere 4 hours of sleep; but in this case, they are recorded as having worked for only 8 hours.
Exposed to Additional Off-Duty Work and Harassment
Visiting caregivers are also known to be forced to do additional work which is not included in their job description; these works include serving visitors (24%), preparing kimchi (23%), farming (14%), and more.
These caregivers also take to performing medical tasks that only professionals are permitted to do; enema (56%), suction (51%), wound dressing (21%), and urinary tract insertion (5%) were the most common cases. Over 71% of all caregivers also said that they worked alone during the time they were supposed to be aided by medical professionals to support the elderly.
Especially while caring for dementia patients and other mentally disabled elderly, caregivers often face numerous accounts of physical, mental and sexual abuse. It was reported that 81% of all nursing home caregivers and 30% of all home-visiting caregivers answered to having experienced such harassment.
Most family and relatives of the elderly are unaware of these incidents. While education and public understanding in this area is in dire need, so is an improved policy which concerns the welfare of senior caregivers.
Employment Difficulties Due to Over-flooding of Home Visiting Caregivers
In the case of home-visiting caregivers, it is necessary for each caregiver to acquire at least two people whom he/she can take care of regularly, in order to cover minimum living expenses. However, this becomes impossible when the elderly in their care eventually die, or are sent to nursing homes; these visiting caregivers have no choice but to be constantly living in a precarious work environment where income is unstable.
Moreover, the instability of the home visiting caregivers’ situation also comes from the fact that as of now, there is a greater number of caregiver services in general than there are elderly who need care.
Last year, the number of all long-term care giving institutions that were registered on the National Health Insurance Corporation reached 19,918 places; a number 5 times larger than what was in 2008. While these nursing homes usually employ 15 caregivers at any given time, home-visiting care-giving organisations pale in comparison, as each one usually has only 8.8 caregivers at any given time.
Regarding this situation, NHRCK stated that policy reforms which could legitimately improve overall caregiver labor conditions is necessary.