“Passion wage” (the English for the Korean ‘열정페이’) has recently emerged as a new term in South Korea in reference to the extremely low pay given to young workers, often lower than the minimum wage. Employers hope that the workers’ “passion” will somehow compensate for the lack of a livable wage.
The term was first inspired by the extremely low pay that young interns of renowned fashion designer Lie Sang-bong receive, which was heavily criticized by youth rights group. Since then, many more testimonies of “passion wage” have followed. As this hot buzzword turned up in conversations and in news stories, the government ordered monitoring of alleged abuses of young people in the workforce.
South Korea's youth unemployment rate hit a record high of 9% in December 2014. One of the most scandalous cases of “passion wage” was that of an online game maker company, which posted a job advertisement offering voice actors compensation of ‘several hundred diamonds’ — the money used in the game, not real-world money — for their work.
Net users have shared many similar instances of small clothing shops paying their temporary photo editors and clothing models in clothing items, not money.
Outraged, young people have taken to social media to recount their experiences with little to no compensation for work they performed for the sake of getting experience. Many have noted that unpaid internships favor young people from wealthy families, who can afford to pay living expenses while doing work for free.
수습, 견습, 인턴, 알바, 열정 페이.. 세월의 흐름과 함께 ‘착취’라는 역사적 단어도 다양하고 세련된 이름으로 발전을 거듭한다.
— 이진경 (@castellio) January 8, 2015
Probationary employment, apprenticeship, internship, part-time work and now the “passion wage”… The word “exploitation” has evolved in various ways and transformed itself into more sophisticated forms as time goes by.
타인의 노동/재물/재능 등으로 이득을 보지만 그에 상응하는 댓가는 치르고 싶지 않은 경우 흔히 하는 짓이 그 노동등을 “숭고한 것”으로 만드는 거다. 가사노동, 육아노동, 강제징병, 그리고 최근의 열정페이, 재능기부 모두 이러한
— ㄱㅗㅏㄱㅅㅜㅈㅓㅇ (@ksj_0111) January 24, 2015
When someone wants to get only benefits from others’ labor, resources and talents but doesn't want to pay for it, what they often do is turn that labor into something ‘sacred’. Domestic work, child-rearing, being drafted, and currently, “passion wage” or talent-sharing are good examples.
진짜 공감 창작물도 창작하는데 드는 시간은 공짜가 아닌데… 열정페이 정말 진심을 다해서 싫어함 이건 좋은 기회이고 넌 이걸 좋아하니 희생해^^! 하는건 언제들어도 이해 할 수 없어…
— 료 (@ryoyell) February 18, 2015
I totally agree. All those hours spent on making creative content, it's not like it's free extra time. I really hate the passion wage. It's like saying, “Since it's a good opportunity and you seem to like it, why don't you just sacrifice for us!” I don't follow their logic.
“Passion wages” are most prevalent in fields that require mentoring from a superior, notably the fashion, beauty and culinary industries, as well as those in which a connection is pivotal to finding a job, such as creative industries like art and comics.
주간연재나 특정장르는 어시를 고용하지 않으면 정상적인 연재가 불가능에 가깝지만 어시에게 최저시급을 줄 경우 연재할 수 있는 작가가 많지 않다. 열정페이는 어느 곳보다 만화쪽에서 뜨끔할 문제.
— 마늘오리 (@kyhasdf) February 5, 2015
For weekly publishing or for certain genres of comics, it is nearly impossible to meet the deadline without the help of assistants, but there are not many comic writers who can afford to pay the minimum wage to an assistant. Actually, it would be the world of comics where the passion wage issue is most grave.
방송국에서 열정페이 피해자를 찾는다라… 멀리 가지 말고, 거기 AD, FD들한테 물어보시죠.
— 에사쿠 (@aircon77) February 11, 2015
They say people in TV stations are searching for victims of the passion wage system [for their news coverage]. Why don't you search closer and take a look around? Ask questions to your [poorly paid, entry-level] assistant directors or floor directors.
이상봉뿐 아니라 수많은 문화예술 쪽이 열정페이 천국이지. 비슷한 계열 잠깐 몸담은 적 있다.술자리서 어떤 작가가 “요즘애들 너무 쉽게 얻으려고 해. 글쎄 저번엔 월급 100만원을 요구하더라니까”라고 말하는 걸 듣고 그 동네를 탈출하기로 결심했지.
— KIL Yong-chan (@inven_Kavo) November 1, 2014
Actually, it is not only limited to the Lie Sang-bong case. Passion wages can be found almost everywhere in art and culture world. I once worked in that field and overheard one writer say, “Those young kids nowadays want easy money. One day, he or she even asked me to offer 1 million Korean won for monthly payment!” [equivalent to 909 US dollars, about 100 dollars higher than the minimum wage]. After I heard that, I’ve decided to run away from that area.
Regarding people's arguments that the unpaid internship system is used in many other countries and in certain fields, one Twitter user stressed:
무급 인턴제 운영으론, 이탈리아 예술계가 최악입니다. 식대와 차비 외 3-4년 무급 도제도 흔합니다. 일본의 유명 건축가들도 무급으로 인턴을 부립니다. 그런데, 그건 잘못된 겁니다. 미국 예술계에 무급 인턴이 흔하니까, 서울에서 그래도 되나요? — 임범묵 AKA 이정우 AKA 임근준 (@st_disegno) January 29, 2015
In the case of abusing the unpaid internship system, the Italian art field would be one of the worst cases. Unpaid apprenticeships can continue over the course of two to three years. In the case of Japan, even famous architects use unpaid interns. But that does not change the fact that it is wrong. Do you think it is okay to have such system in Seoul, just because unpaid interns are common in the art world in the United States?