For a better working environmentThe government has unveiled a package of measures to boost the participation of women in the labor force, helping them to return to work more easily after giving birth. Many women leave the work force because of various pressures that come from motherhood. But the burden on working mothers is bad, not only for the individual but also for society and the economy. The latest package includes better parental leave and child care support, including assistance for companies trying to build more family-friendly workplaces.
In announcing the measures, the deputy prime minister for the economy, Hyun Oh-seok, said the great growth of the Korean economy over the years owes a lot to working mothers, and the solution to the country’s problems of low fertility rates and fast aging lies in getting more women into the work force. Higher female participation in the economy is also essential in restoring Korea’s growth potential and achieving the government’s target rate of 70 percent employment.
But those measures cannot bear fruit without active support from the corporate sector. The Korea Employers Federation issued a disapproving statement: “The measures can aggravate companies’ financial burdens and will only discourage companies from hiring women.” Employers in general worried about increases in labor costs.
The Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business welcomed the measures, but wanted the government to take on more of the burden. The government, however, stopped short of explaining how the programs will be financed. If it wants the programs to be fully enacted, it must offer various incentives to ensure corporate participation.
The government also included the idea of encouraging parental leave for fathers. Equal participation in family care is key to successfully managing a career and a family. But experiments with paternity leave have not been successful in most countries. In Sweden, fathers were able to freely take breaks from work for parenting, but few took advantage of the policy for fear of lagging behind professionally at work. However, making paternity leave compulsory is a must to eliminate potential discrimination.
Some details of the plan might also clash with employment and child care laws. But regardless of any imperfections in the outline, it is a step in the right direction, encouraging women to pursue their careers in a more understanding working environment. The government must push ahead with the plan to raise awareness and boost the participation of women in the labor market.