Moon's quest for fairness in jobs boomerangsPresident Moon Jae-in’s pledge to upgrade contract workers at state-run companies is sparking an unexpected backlash from young people who spend years trying to get government employment.
The Incheon International Airport Corporation said Monday it will offer standard employment contracts to 1,902 sub-contracted security guards. They will become salaried security guards of the airport, the corporation said.
The state-run airport corporation was following through on one of Moon’s most public pledges. Moon went to the airport on his first presidential visit on May 12, 2017 — three days after winning the presidential election — and vowed to scrap the contract employment system in the public sector, which created a subclass of employees with fewer benefits and no job security.
A petition was posted on the Blue House’s online public feedback system on Monday, demanding a halt to the upgrading of irregular workers to public company payrolls.
As of 4 p.m Wednesday, the petition had been signed by over 187,000 people. If a petition gets more than 200,000 signatures within 30 days, the Blue House must reply.
“I thought the promise to scrap the contract employment system meant that public companies would not hire irregular workers any more or hire them as standard workers of affiliates,” the petitioner wrote. “But the reality was different. Temporary workers were hired as standard employees, and they are demanding the same salaries and benefits as existing employees.
The petitioner pointed out that the upgraded security guards outnumber the corporation's 1,400 salaried workers.
By concentrating on the unfairness faced by contract workers, Moon seems to have forgotten the many people who work hard to get jobs at government corporations — often studying for years, paying for cram schools to prepare for tests and interviews, and working as interns to build up the right résumé.
In Korea, competition is fierce to win jobs at state-run corporations because of the job stability, decent salaries and benefits they offer.
In 2019, the competition rate for administrative jobs at the airport was 185 to one, meaning 185 people applied for every open position. For technical positions, the competition rate was 65 to one.
“You can barely pass the résumé screening of the corporation if you have a perfect TOEIC [Test Of English for International Communication] score,” the petitioner wrote. “I wonder if it is fair to automatically upgrade contract workers without a test, not to mention looking into their career experiences.”
The petitioner questioned Moon's definition of fairness and equality.
“Who would have wanted to pay university tuition, build career experiences and spend time and money?” the petitioner wrote. “This is not equality. This is reverse discrimination.”
Existing workers worry about losing control of their union.
“If they are hired as security guards, unionize and demand the same treatment as ours, we will suffer damage,” said a regular workers’ union member. “This is unfair because we got our jobs after fierce competition.”
When Moon announced his ambitious goal of “zero contract workers” in May 2017, experts were tight-lipped about the broader ramifications. Kim Young-bae, vice chairman of the Korea Enterprises Federation, was one of the few critics, but the Blue House, government and the ruling Democratic Party (DP) attacked him, forcing his resignation.
Kim Ju-young, head of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions at the time and currently a lawmaker for the DP, also said Moon’s pledge was unreasonable, but he never directly challenged the president’s labor policy.
“It is a policy of indiscriminately sharing high-salaried jobs,” said Professor Park Ji-soon of Korea University’s Graduate School of Labor Studies. “During the same period, no tangible reform actually took place in public companies.”
“It is a human resources management policy based on politics, not business administration or economic principles,” said Cho Joon-mo, a professor of economics at Sungkyunkwan University. “It is no wonder that fairness is violated.”
As the controversy snowballs, the Incheon International Airport Corporation issued a press release to clarify that not all subcontracted security guards will be automatically hired as standard employees.
The corporation said those who started work before Moon’s promise on May 12, 2017, will have to undergo tests to upgrade their employment status. Those who started working after Moon’s promise will have to undergo a public recruiting process, including an application, tests and interview.
The recruitment will also be open to the general public to ensure fairness, the corporation said, stressing that the subcontracted workers will also have to compete against outside applicants.
BY SER MYO-JA, KIM KI-CHAN [firstname.lastname@example.org]