[Viewpoint]Irregular solutionsSince the enforcement of the law that took effect in July protecting non-regular employees, the conflict between non-regular workers and management has grown, as the E.Land strike has shown. The non-regular workers of E.Land subsidiaries went on strike, occupied workplaces and staged demonstrations that provoked the involvement of the police. That vividly illustrates the problems associated with non-regular employment in Korea. We need to study the E.Land crisis and think about non-regular employment to find fundamental, long-term solutions.
Today, 36 percent of the workforce is non-regular, a rate certainly higher than that of developed nations. However, we also need to acknowledge that a certain portion of the workforce needs to be filled by non-regular employees for the Korean economy to operate smoothly. According to a 2006 survey by the National Statistical Office, 51.5 percent of the 5.4 million non-regular workers were voluntarily employed as non-regular workers.
We need to find ways to improve the status of non-regular workers, rather than simply hiring them as regular workers. Those options could include transferring them to another workplace as regular workers or helping them start new businesses.
Furthermore, the labor market would be better used by improving the employment terms for voluntary non-regular workers and increasing the percentage of voluntary non-regular employees.
How can we make this work? One effective method would be to improve the experience and skills of the non-regular employees.
By doing so, the non-regular workers will be able to demand better working conditions and will have an easier time transitioning to better positions. Moreover, their personal improvement will enhance the competitiveness of the company and the nation, which will both benefit the individual person and Korea.
Nevertheless, according to a 2005 study by the Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training, only 7.1 percent of temporary workers, who make up majority of the non-regular employees, attend vocational training. That number is less than half the participation rate of regular workers, 16.2 percent of whom take such programs. It is, of course, much lower than rates of developed countries.
Irregular workers are not going to get out of the trap of non-regular employment as long as they continue to receive low wages, work in poor conditions and are unable to get properly trained. The Presidential Committee on Job Strategy published a report in 2006 saying that only 15 percent of non-regular workers are transferred to regular positions each year, when the average for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries was 30 percent. The government has recognized the need to develop non-regular workers’ skills and has introduced various measures to do so.
However, both labor unions and management are indifferent about training and education, and the results of the training are often not reflected in personnel management decisions. The non-regular workers are rarely given educational chances, and even when they do get such an opportunity, there are not many short-term training programs available to accommodate the nature of their jobs.
The cost of training and education is not an expense but an investment, and it should lead to improvements in productivity and experience. Companies should prepare a personnel management system to promote non-regular workers with outstanding experience and training results as regular employees.
Also, the workers need to develop long-term plans themselves. The government should continue to improve the relevant laws and regulations to establish educational and training systems that fit the nature of non-regular jobs. It also needs to advocate training programs and prepare an environment where non-regular workers should be able to participate more easily.
It is a challenge for the government, the unions and management to help non-regular employees develop skills and encourage them to get training and education. It might seem like a long and rough road, but it may be the shortest one.
*The writer is a researcher at the Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training.Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Jang Hong-geun