[Viewpoint] Law won’t help non-regular workers

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[Viewpoint] Law won’t help non-regular workers

According to employment trends released this week by the National Statistical Office, the number of people without jobs held steady in April but then rose in May.

At the same time, an average of 3,000 workers are filing for unemployment benefits each day this year, which amounts to about 100,000 a month.

While some other economic indicators are improving, it is impossible to predict if Korea and the world are in recovery mode after a devastating global downturn. It therefore also is uncertain how many more people will lose their jobs in the future.

In February, civic groups and government agencies launched a “job-sharing campaign” aimed at encouraging companies to avoid layoffs and even create new positions by reducing wages. Those groups understand the importance that jobs have in pulling the nation out of the economic crisis.

But workers might soon be forced to leave their employers against their wishes. On July 1, the two-year contract period of many non-regular workers is set to end. Under a new law scheduled to go into effect on that date, companies must either transform those workers into regular employees or fire them. The law was aimed at protecting non-regular workers, who at times are forced to bear unfair labor practices to have their contracts extended.

But looking at our economic situation and the current reality in the business world, it’s easy to see how the law might bring about a wave of unintended consequences. That’s the main reason the ruling Grand National Party is attempting to delay the implementation of the law by two to four years.

It would be good if the law did indeed encourage companies to employ their non-regular workers full-time. But when business is not going well - like these days - more non-regular workers will be sent packing.

In a survey conducted by the Korea Chamber of Commerce, companies said they would have to fire more than half of their non-regular workers.

If the law is delayed, however, companies said they could keep non-regular workers employed beyond their initial two-year contracts. More than 80 percent of companies that responded to the survey said they could keep all of their current non-regular employees under those circumstances.

For this reason, the business community has long pointed out that putting limits on the employment period of non-regular workers does not fit the reality of the situation. It will only make non-regular workers worry constantly about being fired.

In 2006, I participated in the process of crafting the law on protecting non-regular workers as a representative of the business community. I constantly maintained that discrimination against non-regular workers must be abolished but that the employment period must not be limited.

Nonetheless, labor representatives and some politicians still seem to cling to the view that companies will convert most non-regular workers into full-time employees after the two-year contract period. Some maintain that non-regular workers who lose their jobs likely will find new ones quickly. Using that logic, they say that the new law will not lead to a major crisis fueled by massive job losses.

The reality, though, is that it’s extremely difficult to find work nowadays, even for non-regular workers. Therefore, many non-regular workers will want to keep their current jobs by extending their contracts.

There also are costs - mainly lower productivity and efficiency - when skilled workers have to adapt to new jobs and work environments.

The purpose of the law is noble, but we need to think seriously about its consequences, particularly in a difficult economic time.

We must revise the law to prevent a large number of non-regular workers from losing their jobs. As it stands now, companies will be forced to fire many of these skilled workers.

At the very least, implementation of the new law should be delayed by two to four years. That is the only way to prevent a massive unemployment crisis and reduce confusion in the labor market. After that, we should work together to find more realistic and reasonable measures.

*The writer is the vice chairman of the Korea Chamber of Commerce. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Sang-ryul
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