Stop intern exploitation

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Stop intern exploitation, a local social commerce firm, is under criticism for firing all of its 11 interns after hiring them for two weeks. After a public uproar, the company chose to re-employ all of them. But accusations against entrepreneurs who try to exploit the plight of desperate job seekers continue. Young applicants for jobs vented their fury at companies abusing their workers with minimal wages or no payment at all. After a convenience store owner posted a job opening on an online job site - in which he said, “Our young generation does not seem to work at convenience stores just for money. However, I will pay as much as they work” - it drew public outrage from young netizens.

Korean companies are expected to hire fewer employees than last year due to the prolonged slowdown in the economy. At universities across the nation, students are postponing their graduation to prepare for companies’ recruitment examinations. The so-called “No Graduation” group runs the risk of earning low wages at part-time jobs to add even trivial experience to their resumes. A survey by an Internet job site found that one out of four respondents was willing to work as a part-timer even at the risk of low wages or no pay.

However, many businesses still treat interns as “expendables” by paying them incredibly low wages and laying them off once their contracts are over rather than using internships as a means to find capable, full-time workers. Young applicants end up squandering their time in their desperate struggle to find jobs. Even government agencies have been running such internship programs. Most public corporations don’t link their internship programs to employment of full-time workers, and most interns don’t have an opportunity to enrich their career, as their jobs are mostly simple work.

General Electric is famous for its successful internship programs. It not only recruits interns globally, but is proud of a high ratio of interns choosing to move up to permanent positions. The company takes that ratio into account when evaluating employees in charge of internship programs. The experience of an internship at GE is useful for finding a full-time job at other companies.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor has recently revamped programs to assist with youth internships in order to encourage companies to shift part-timers into full-time work. The ministry offers a 3 million won ($2,737) subsidy to companies that allow young interns to work as permanent employees for one year. The ministry also plans to end the subsidy for companies whose rate of hiring interns into full-time positions is lower than 30 percent. Though belated, we welcome this change. Many companies haven’t made such a shift despite the government’s urging. Business owners who exploit the system must be heavily punished. It’s as big a crime as not paying the minimum wage. If the government ignores widespread malpractice, our young generation’s discontent will explode.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 9, Pahe 30

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