[PRO]A productive use of idle talentsHow grand and ambitious is the government goal of raising the overall employment rate to 70 percent? What it requires is for the incumbent administration to create twice the number of jobs past governments have been able to create in their terms. We should not jump to the conclusion that the goal is too far-fetched; the average employment level in advanced economies is what we should aspire to. But to attain the goal some drastic steps are needed.
Past governments have all tried working with the idea of increasing part-time jobs. The ratio of quality female participation in our labor market is low compared to advanced countries. If we trim our lengthy working hours we can find sufficient room to create new jobs. The essence of the government’s jobs strategy is to restrict the long working hours of regular workers and increase part-time jobs.
When well-paid part-time work is available in abundance, women will find it easier to manage work and home duties at the same time. The idea is a productive way of utilizing idle talent. Middle-aged and retired people could also be better absorbed into the labor market, helping to ease problems associated with an aging population. Young people who earn meager wages from internships could also be ensured more security and pay for their work. Those who study hard for bar or other state exams, or those who are considering changing careers, could also make money by working part-time and studying at the same time.
But stable part-time positions cannot be suddenly increased across the board. As well as the government’s goal of creating 930,000 part-time jobs, separate incentives are needed to encourage individual sectors to allow more part-time positions. At the same time, authorities must take heed of criticism and skepticism from the labor union sector and some social groups which argue that part-time jobs are just unstable and temporary employment. Acceptable part-time jobs can only be created through the cooperation of labor and management as well as realistic assessments of labor market conditions.
Unfortunately, a joint labor-management-government commitment to creating jobs in the private sector is not there yet. Also the tripartite committee does not include the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the umbrella union that influences most of the country’s largest workplaces. In order to provide acceptable part-time jobs, rewards for work must be fair.
The government must demonstrate a greater will to boost public-sector jobs. It can directly recruit civil servants. The government must set an example by offering decent part-time positions with sufficient job security, remuneration and welfare benefits. But it’s unclear how the government can include part-time officials in the civil servant pension scheme, which is already under fire for overindulgence, or whether it plans to hire nonregular workers in key positions or just for peripheral work.
If benefits are handed out recklessly and randomly, the growth in the public sector would only waste tax money. Without a radical restructuring of the top-down bureaucracy, an increased number of part-time civil servants would eventually be pushed to the periphery and become worthless. To achieve the ambitious goal of 70 percent overall employment, there must be bold and painstaking efforts on reform.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
* The author is a fellow researcher at the Korea Labor Institute.
by Lee Jang-won