Part-time employees left to driftTo North Africans from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, the Mediterranean Sea is a gateway to the “continent of hopes.” They secretly get on boats to get out of poverty, and their destinations are Spain and southern Italy on the other side of the Mediterranean. The boat people set out on a journey to search for a new life in Europe. Nowadays, young Spaniards are sailing in the opposite direction of Morocco in search for jobs. The only difference is that they don’t travel by boats. According to the Statistical Office of Spain, 280,000 Spanish citizens under the age of 30 went abroad for employment last year. While most headed for another European nation or the United States, some went to work in construction sites in North Africa. The youth unemployment rate in Spain is 56 percent.
While young people around the world are struggling to find jobs, Korea is not an exception. According to Statistics Korea, the unemployment rate for Koreans between 15 and 29 was 7.7 percent in September. The number does not seem serious, but the biggest problem is part-time employees, who are considered employed in the statistics.
Look around the office and see how many part-time employees are working. Mr. A, age 30, has moved three times since he graduated from college. His first job was a contract position as an assistant to a cameraman. His second job was a temporary position, which he kept for two years. Now, he has an office job, but still as a temp with a two-year contract. There is no guarantee after two years.
“Regardless of the salary, I would like to stay at one company and build up experience and a career,” he said. “Because of the Temporary Employment Protection Act, I am drifting like the boat people. I hate myself and the society.”
The Temporary Employment Protection Act was enacted in July 2007 in order to protect the rights of part-time workers, whose numbers increased rapidly after the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The law requires employers to officially hire part-time employees after more than two years of service. Six years have passed, and the law has produced the opposite results.
The Ministry of Employment and Labor surveyed a panel of non-permanent workers between April 2010 and April 2013. Among the 1.21 million workers with two years of service, only 11.4 percent, or 139,000 workers, were transferred to a regular position or moved to regular employment. During that period, more than half, 52.7 percent, lost their jobs or moved to another part-time job. Employers also have their concerns. It is better to continue to hire skilled workers who had been working for them for two years, but since the law requires companies to offer a regular position after two years, they had to terminate the contract.
The outcries of part-time employees continue. If their frustration continues, they would leave for Southeast Asia, China or Africa. The young Africans crossing the Mediterranean are not making a glorious escape. They are risking their lives. If the boat capsizes, the most picturesque sea in the world turns into a pandemonium. The story of the boat people is not unrelated to young Koreans. The Temporary Employment Protection Act, which was supposed to help the workers - but turned out to negatively affect them - should be retracted now.
*The author is the new media editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
BY KIM JONG-YOON