SEOUL-- The medical community is reeling from the planned minimum wage hike next year, with small neighborhood clinics and hospitals appealing for at least a matching hike in billing rates, industry officials said Monday.

The government and labor unions earlier this month agreed on a 16.4 percent hike in the minimum pay for next year, from 6,470 won (US$5.76) to 7,530 won. The scale of the hike has drawn protests from many businesses, which say they cannot afford the extra cost, triggering concerns by jobseekers that companies may cut down on new hirings.

According to the Korea Licensed Practical Nurses Association (KLPNA), about 10 percent of some 200,000 nurse assistants in the country are not being paid the current minimum wage. The group's own survey last year showed that 14 percent of the employers did not abide by the minimum pay and 48 percent were in violation of work contract regulations. Sixty percent of the employers did not pay the staff for unused vacation days, while 47 percent withheld pay for working on weekends and holidays.

Doctors and hospital operators, however, say they are financially strained by the low billing guidelines. The medical community, consumer groups and health insurance authorities set these guidelines that determine billing rates for medical services, which were raised 3.1 percent for next year.

"Our medical system basically runs on a policy of low medical bills, so an increased minimum wage could double the difficulties of medical institutions," an industry official said. "The proportion of personnel costs is very high at medical institutions. We do need to look at the issue beforehand so that clinics and hospitals are not forced out of business."

Source: Yonhap News Agency