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An employee's trust crumbled in the Asian financial crisis

Kim Deuk-uy watched in dismay as co-workers were fired 'for no reason' at the South Korea securities company where he worked in 1998. He eventually moved to the nonprofit sector.

August 21, 2011|By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times
  • South Korean President-elect Kim Dae-jung, center, discusses the deepening Asian financial crisis in a national television appearance in 1998.
South Korean President-elect Kim Dae-jung, center, discusses the deepening… (Yonhap / Associated Press )

Reporting from Seoul — With a shudder, Kim Deuk-uy recalls the gloominess of the 1998 Asian financial crisis.

Back then, Kim worked for a securities company that was shedding employees like a snake sheds skin. Kim could see it: The nation's rocky finances would lead to a change in the dynamic between workers and executives in South Korea.

"It became a good excuse to fire the full-time employees for no good reason, hire them back at two-thirds of the payment as a part-time employee, though they were doing exactly the same job," he recalled. "You had to be constantly on watch, thinking whether they are going to fire you or not. The executives' earnings, on the other hand, skyrocketed."

He watched people leave the company in tears, some imploring those still left, "Please save the company."

Kim survived 1998, only to be fired from the securities firm seven years later. But the corporate atmosphere changed him and he decided to move into the nonprofit sector.

"I joined an NGO called SPEC Watch, where we look out for speculative buying. I serve as the director of policy there. It's a meaningful job for me," he said.

"After working at the securities company and seeing my colleagues being fired for no reason, I just felt something slowly change inside of me."

Nowadays, Kim looks at his role in his nation's roller-coaster economy not as a victim, but as a cautious survivor.

"I don't think this year's stock market crash is as bad as back then," he said. "I still get nightmares from '98."

john.glionna@latimes.com

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