Time for a grand bargain
The rival parties are trying to pass a series of bills before the National Assembly turns over, but they are mired in arguments about labor reform. Over the weekend, the ruling and main opposition parties finally agreed to pass the so-called One Shot Act and another bill designed to improve human rights conditions in North Korea.
But the opposition is stubbornly refusing to pass the government-proposed act to expand how agency workers can be used, which would create over 17,800 jobs, and refuses to approve other bills designed to increase flexibility in the labor market and improve working conditions. The rival parities also have failed to agree on the service sector promotion law to create 690,000 jobs in the service industry, as well as an act related to counterterrorism efforts.
Youth joblessness hit an all-time high of 9.2 percent last year. The overall unemployment rate also reached its highest in five years at 3.6 percent. The president offered to yield the agency worker act, but urged the legislature to pass four other labor sector bills.
A breakthrough in the job crisis is now in the hands of the opposition and labor sector. The main opposition must not ruin the economy by siding with the unions of large companies that only make up 10 percent of the total workforce. The main opposition blindly repeats what the unions have been arguing - that the agency work bill would only increase non-permanent workers - without closely studying it. But the act aims to provide jobs for people aged 55 and over who have retired and also help midsize manufacturers find skilled workers.
The service and counterterrorism acts also require a closer look instead of knee-jerk opposition. The main opposition believes the service sector bill will pave the way for full liberalization of the medical sector. If that is the primary concern, there should be room for compromise. The ruling party also agreed to place counterterrorism authority with the prime minister’s office instead of the National Intelligence Service to prevent excessive civilian surveillance. If the two parties yield a little, there is no reason both bills cannot be approved.
Despite extra spending of 2 trillion won ($1.7 billion) last year, the number of newly hired workers stopped at 330,000, the lowest in five years. Lawmakers must do whatever is necessary to bolster jobs. Labor reform laws inevitably require some sacrifices from the workforce. It is urgent to create jobs for the unemployed. The government must also do its best to ease the jitters of the labor sector so that employers do not fear hiring and workers are no longer worried about losing their jobs. JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 25, Page 30