Student strike calls for labor reform enactment

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Student strike calls for labor reform enactment

A group of college students staged a hunger strike in front of the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Tuesday to demand that the legislature speedily pass bills on labor reform.

Members of a youth network demanding labor reform delivered a petition on Nov. 16, signed by 10,000 students from six cities nationwide to the National Assembly to emphasize the necessity in passing labor reform legislation, which hasn’t made much progress.

The one-meal hunger strike Tuesday, held around 11:30 a.m., was a follow-up measure.

A major frustration for the college students and young graduates, who have struggled to find permanent employment, is the sluggish pace at which parliamentary negotiations on enforcing legislation on labor reforms have progressed ? made worse by the lack of cooperation between the ruling and opposition parties.

“I’m not just arbitrarily siding with the ruling party,” said Cho Seung-soo, who heads the non-governmental organization Youth Make Korea, which took part in the rally, “but I think it’s regrettable if the request to create a fair labor market fizzles just because of [political] biases.”

The ruling Saenuri Party has been trying to push a package of five labor reform bills, alongside its budget for next year.

The package addresses labor standards, employment insurance, industrial accident compensation, fixed-term employment and dispatched workers.

“I feel sorry that youth who should be carrying their resumes to companies are instead bleeding themselves dry, gathering petitions and calling out the National Assembly,” Saenuri floor leader Won Yoo-chul said on Tuesday.

However, because the youth group’s demands support the ruling party’s agenda, thereby alienating the opposition, there has been skepticism as to whether it is a government-backed organization.

“There will be people who point fingers at us and say, ‘What use is it?’ But when I see the people around me who have failed to find jobs, I can’t help but step forward,” Cho said.

“I know one man in his late 20s who graduated from a four-year university in Seoul and, over the past three months, has submitted his resume to 105 companies and passed the first-round document review at just four places, then was rejected in the interview round. This is common.”

Another participant in the hunger strike, Min Cheon-sik, 28, had similar sentiments.

“The reality is that for an annual wage of 15 to 18 million won ($12,884 to $15,461), small and midsized companies demand four-year college graduates with a TOEIC [Test of English for International Communication] score of over 900.

“These lines, ‘Sorry, you have a liberal arts degree’ or ‘You’re useless unless you have a background in electronics, chemistry or engineering,’ didn’t just come out of nowhere.”

The youth network said that it plans to hold regular hunger strikes until the last day of the 19th National Assembly’s regular session on Dec. 9, to demand parliamentary approval of labor reforms.

BY KIM KYUNG-HEE, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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