South Korea doubles wages of its rank-and-file conscripted soldiers

South Korea soldiers taking a break on their self-propelled artillery vehicle during a military exercise on Nov 29, 2017. Seoul raised the salaries of its rank-and-file conscripted soldiers on Jan 17, 2018.
South Korea soldiers taking a break on their self-propelled artillery vehicle during a military exercise on Nov 29, 2017. Seoul raised the salaries of its rank-and-file conscripted soldiers on Jan 17, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea nearly doubled wages for its rank-and-file conscripted soldiers on Tuesday (Jan 17) but their pay will remain just a fraction of the country's minimum wage.

Salaries for conscripted privates were raised 88 per cent from 163,000 won to 306,100 won (S$381) a month, with privates first class and corporals enjoying similar increases.

But they remain far below South Korea's minimum wage of 7,530 won (US$7) per hour.

President Moon Jae In has promised to increase conscripts' pay to half the minimum wage by 2022.

As part of the changes, public servants' wages rose an average 2.6 per cent, while Moon's own salary went up 2.27 per cent to 225 million won a year.

Conscripts, most of them in their early 20s, account for the lion's share of the military's 690,000 active personnel.

All able-bodied South Korean men between 18 and 35 are obliged to perform military service for about two years.

They are plunged into a world of harsh military discipline, often after a cosseted childhood, and the experience can be daunting, particularly for those posted to the border with North Korea.

Barrack-room bullying has been blamed for numerous suicides and incidents where conscripts have turned their weapons on their comrades.