Regulating an irregular work force
The government announced a set of measures to relieve the troubles for irregular workers who now take up a bulk of the Korean work force. But they have been criticized by both labor and management. The labor side claims the measures will only generate more irregular workers while the management side complains about strains from increased costs.
The government proposes that companies guarantee job security for workers over 35 years old who are hired on a contractual basis for four years instead of the current two. Severance pay, which is given only when contracted employees work for more than a year, should be offered from three months. Management is fine with the idea of extending a contract’s term by another two years.
But labor opposes the idea, saying that the move will only end up increasing the irregular work force. Management points out that the measures will help little to raise flexibility in the market and will only hurt profitability because of higher labor costs.
Problems caused by an irregular work force are worsening. Irregular workers take up 32.4 percent of the country’s working population but receive just 64 percent of what workers on the permanent payroll earn. This can only be solved by easing rigidity in the market.
But the labor sector has been strongly resisting moves to lift protections on life-long job guarantees and is demanding that the irregular work force be given permanent status - albeit without jeopardizing their jobs.
Past governments all introduced measures to help people with irregular jobs, but the problems just got bigger and the income gap between those with a permanent payroll wider.
The government measures require more study and coordination through a tripartite committee with labor and management representatives until March. If labor remains opposed, a deal by March may not be possible. Even if it is approved, any labor changes could be resisted by the Korea Confederation of Trade Unions. Last week, the militant umbrella group selected a former Ssayongong Motor union leader who pledged a nationwide strike to protest the government-led proposal.
Changes to the irregular work force should be the starting point for labor reform. There are other sensitive labor issues - the extension of the retirement age and inclusion of bonuses as base salary - that labor and management must work out. Without compromise from each side, no one wins. Both sides should try to work out ways that can best help everyone instead of being so stubborn.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 31, Page 26