Toward equal payThe Japanese government has fixed guidelines for improving the treatment of non-salaried contract workers. The gist of the guidelines is raising their wages to 80 percent of what salaried counterparts receive. Currently, non-salaried employees receive 60 percent of salaried workers’ wages. The idea is based on the belief that employers should offer more equal wages and welfare benefits if the two groups do the same work and receive the same evaluations for their performances.
Japan took the measures for a simple reason: to elevate the productivity of non-salaried employees by encouraging them to work harder by paying them more. Tokyo recognizes a strong need to level the playing field to reinforce the economic vitality that Japan has lost.
Korea faces a similar situation. Economists and labor unions have long demanded that the gaps in wages and other benefits between salaried and contract workforces and between large companies and small- and mid-sized companies be narrowed. In February 2013, the government even enacted a law aimed at prohibiting discrimination between the two workforces. Though Korea took the action before Japan set its guidelines, the gap has not been narrowed.
The biggest reason for this problem is the deep-rooted salary system based on seniority in which employees’ wages automatically rise in proportion to the length of their employment. But non-salaried employees on short-term (mostly one to two year) contracts can hardly expect a substantial increase in their wages under a seniority-based salary system — no matter how hard they work. In the meantime, salaried workers’ wages go up regardless of their job performance. That’s why the wage gap only grows in Korea. If there is no way to turn this around, no enactment of laws can effectively resolve the gap.
The problem is that if the authorities change our current wage system, it could hurt the interests of our labor unions, which are controlled by salaried employees. That’s why our labor sector has lost any chance of achieving the principle of “same wages for same labor” since the early 2000s. The dilemma also calls for a big change in the attitudes of salaried workers.
Politicians must transform our labor market so the law banning wage discrimination can take effect. They must immediately launch a restructuring of our labor market, including revamping our outdated wage system, cutting work hours and paying severance pay to non-salaried workers. Such issues should not be mere political slogans or a bargaining chip in labor disputes. Our political leaders must follow Tokyo and dry the tears of our 6.4 million non-salaried employees.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 23, Page 34