Part-time work, full-blown debate

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Part-time work, full-blown debate

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A main goal of the Park Geun-hye administration is to reach 70 percent employment rate and create 2.38 million jobs by 2017. Of those new jobs, 39 percent will be part-time. Last year, Korea had 1.49 million part-time jobs, but under the government plan, that would jump to 2.42 million in 2017.

However, whether the push for part-time jobs is achievable and right for Korea is a matter of debate.

Some labor experts say the plan lacks any guarantee of job security similar to that of full-time positions, while companies argue that productivity suffers with part-time workers.

According to the government’s jobs road map, it wants to follow the lead of the Netherlands. The latest OECD data shows that 37 percent of jobs in the Netherlands are part-time, while the OECD average is 16.6 percent.

Experts say the Netherlands’ high-quality part-time jobs are the result of the 1982 Wassenaar Accord,

Under the accord, labor unions froze wages to support companies’ export competitiveness, while management in return reduced working hours and guaranteed stable employment.

In 1996, the Dutch government banned discrimination based on wages, bonuses and vacations related to work, and a year later it reduced social insurance fees for low-wage workers and the long-term unemployed.

The employment rate in the Netherlands was 63.9 percent in 1994, but in just five years it surpassed 70 percent.

The Korean government is confident it can replicate those results with more quality part-time jobs. According to a survey by the Ministry of Employment and Labor this year, 63.5 percent of Koreans say that they have no intention to work part time.

“Our goal is to create an environment where there is no prejudice against part-time jobs and that guarantees the right of people who wish to work part-time,” says an official from the Employment Ministry.

The government first will revise laws or propose new bills to give part-time workers benefits and job security similar to full-time workers.

However, when it comes to the private sector, some companies are already showing concerns about using part-time workers, especially in manufacturing and SMEs, even though the government will offer tax breaks.

“In manufacturing, experienced and skilled workers are crucial, but expanding part-time jobs and workers will not help,” says an official at a small machine business in Seoul. “Even if we offer part-time jobs, who would really come to small companies?”

Existing employees also worry about the effect of part-time workers on wages and work hours.

Cho Won-dong, senior presidential secretary for economic affairs, fueled their concerns after he said on Tuesday during a meeting with lawmakers that competitiveness of products will be lost if workers want the same pay even for fewer hours.

But experts see the real problem as the public perception of part-time positions as low-paying and insecure. For this reason, when the government announced its employment plan last week, Finance Minister Hyun Oh-seok used the term “full-time-positioned part-time jobs.”

BY JOO KYUNG-DON [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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