‘One-way’ labor reform
Reporters are laborers, too. We work night and weekend shifts. Many of us cannot fully use annual vacation days and get paid for the unused vacation days. On Monday, I attended the New Year’s press meeting with Korea Employers Federation chairman Bahk Byong-won, who harshly criticized overtime pays and annual vacation days.
“Workers choose to work overtime to get 50 percent extra wages,” he said. “Also, they want to be paid for unused vacation. The extra payment for overtime should be lowered to the 25 percent level recommended by the International Labor Organization. Also, the system that encourages working long hours should be changed, and monetary compensation for unused vacation days should be prohibited.”
Reporters had many questions. “Workers have to do overtime against their will. In Korea, many workers cannot freely use their vacation days as they wish in reality.”
But Bahk insisted, “Employers never demanded long working hours and workers voluntarily chose to do overtime. If workers feel uncomfortable using all their vacation days, the union needs to fight to change the culture.” He argued that eliminating overtime and fully using vacation days would boost youth employment rate by 2 percent. “Instead of trying to get more money out of the employers, workers need to consider yielding 50 percent of what they enjoy by taking away job opportunities for their sons and nephews.”
Bahk’s remarks sparked controversies online. “Many workers are not even paid for working overtime. How many of them work voluntarily?” “We want to ask if the employers agree with Bahk. If someone leaves at 6 p.m. and uses three weeks of vacation, he would get low grades in the performance review and be laid off.”
Workers are furious that Bahk’s diagnose is so far from reality. According to employment portal site Job Korea’s survey of 574 workers, 55 percent of the respondents said they had to work overtime due to “excessive workload”; 29 percent said the nature of the job required it; and 22 percent said company culture encourages working late (multiple answers allowed). A 2012 survey by the Korea Culture and Tourism Institute showed that 42 percent of respondents said company culture discouraged them from fully using vacation days, while 18 percent said they could not take vacations due to excessive workload, and only 12 percent said the monetary compensation was the motivation. Workers are not working overtime or skipping vacation for money.
Bahk represents the employers, and he must have wanted to argue that labor reform is the key element to boosting national competitiveness. But he only left the impression that employers are pushing for “one-way” labor reform, where only workers sacrifice.
The author is the business news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 18, Page 33
by KIM KI-HWAN