Job pact leaves much to be desired

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Job pact leaves much to be desired

The Federation of Korean Trade Unions, the Korea Employers’ Federation and the Ministry of Employment and Labor reached a pact aimed to boost part-time jobs. The tripartite agreement, however, failed to draw in the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), with which most labor unions at large manufacturers and companies are affiliated. It is nevertheless a meaningful step toward increasing better-paying and secure irregular work through joint efforts by the government, employers and labor unions. The pact, however, leaves a lot to be desired. It lacks specific goals, action plans and binding clauses to enforce the agreement.

If the government really wants to honor President Park Geun-hye’s campaign pledge to pull up the employment rate to 70 percent, it must create 2.5 million jobs over its five-year term. But job figures cannot be stretched without a growing economy. However, exporters and manufacturers no longer contribute to hiring. They take investment overseas for cheaper labor and tax incentives or spend to automate production lines to raise productivity. Midsize or smaller companies struggling to stay afloat amid the economic slump have trouble maintaining their current work force. The services sector, which can generate growth, is still restrained under various regulative constraints.

The government’s plan to boost part-time jobs is limited in and of itself. Part-time or irregular work cannot be decent jobs in the first place. Previous governments experimented with part-time work systems, but made little progress. They are merely makeshift measures to boost job figures temporarily. The German Agenda 2010, a series of labor reform and action plans pursued since 2003, and the Wassenaar Agreement, reached in 1982 between employers and labor unions in the Netherlands to combat unemployment, were groundbreaking. The recent local tripartite agreement can hardly be compared to them.

But we have to agree that part-time jobs are the only realistic and immediate relief to the labor market under current circumstances. Koreans work 2,100 hours a year, 300 hours more than the average of the member nations of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. Working hours should be reduced to raise living standards and share work.

The public sector plans to hire 10,000 part-time workers. But that may not spread to the private sector. Labor unions of large companies will resist having their payroll cut by sharing their work with others. If they are not persuaded like the Germans and Dutch, the labor market will be flooded with insecure irregular workers. We need a new binding and effective tripartite agreement that includes the militant KCTU. The government should work toward gaining cooperation from unionized and permanent workers. Without sacrifice from all, we cannot achieve growth in employment and the economy.

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