President Moon Jae-in offered a public apology Sunday for an apparent failure to keep his campaign pledge to raise South Korea's minimum wage to 10,000 won (US$8.48) per hour within his tenure.
Moon delivered the message through his chief of staff for policy, Kim Sang-jo.
"As the president, it's very regrettable and I am sorry for failing to keep the promise with the people," Moon was quoted as saying.
Kim Sang-jo, presidential chief of staff for policy, holds a press briefing on Cheong Wa Dae's position on the minimum wage issue on July 14, 2019. (Yonhap)
Last week, a related panel of labor and business representatives and experts voted to raise the wage floor 2.9 percent to 8,590 won for next year. For 2019, it hiked the wage 10.9 percent from the previous year.
The growth rate, the lowest in a decade, means it has become almost impossible for Moon to achieve his policy goal of lifting the minimum wage to 10,000 won before his five-year tenure ends in May 2022.
In a meeting with his Cheong Wa Dae aides, Moon said the Minimum Wage Commission made the difficult decision in consideration of "economic conditions, employment situations and market receptiveness."
Moon earlier signaled some flexibility in his approach toward the sensitive issue, stating that the government does not need to stick to his campaign pledge amid unrelenting economic troubles.
Moon instructed Kim to explain publicly about Cheong Wa Dae's position and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki to explore measures to make up for the modest wage hike.
Under Moon's liberal administration, the country's minimum wage had ascended at a relatively steep pace as part of its income-driven growth strategy, the effects of which are still controversial. The government has focused efforts on narrowing income disparity.
It led to more of a burden for employers, especially owners of small businesses such as restaurants, cafes and shops.
Conservative opposition parties argued that Asia's fourth-largest economy has faced deeper woes due to the sharp minimum wage increase.
Kim said it's "heartbreaking" that the minimum wage issue has become a factor in social conflicts and a source of political wrangling.
He stressed, however, that the government is not abandoning the income-led growth policy itself.
"(We) will make our utmost efforts for income-led growth to create a virtuous cycle along with innovative growth and a fair economy," he said.