Learning from a cafe owner

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Learning from a cafe owner

 Suh Kyoung-ho
The author is the economy and industry news director at JoongAng Ilbo.
 
 
My daughter opted out of school in the second half of last year. She was frustrated with online lectures. She could not go on an overseas exchange program she had planned due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I agreed with the idea of taking time off. She wished to try out an internship during the time, but found it hard to find one as most employers demanded experience from interns. If they all look for experience, how can young people start internships anyway, I wondered.
 
When she could not find one even after a couple of months, I advised her to try out a part-time job at convenient stores or diners. Although waitress jobs won’t likely help her resume, she could at least build up experience and sense of how tough it was making money, I thought. She liked the idea but also found it tough to find one. She applied for several openings, but did not get any return calls. In the end, her time off end without any success in finding work.
 
I shared the frustrating story with my superior at work. On the following day, he told me what his daughter of similar age had found. She called me “naïve and old-fashioned” for thinking that part-time jobs were easy to get, because convenient store owners want to hire someone with experience with the shelves and the cash register. I have seen statistics where low-skilled temporary jobs decreased for young people due to a dramatic spike in the minimum wage. But I did not realize how real it could be felt until it affected my daughter.
 
A self-employed shopkeeper’s outburst about the government’s income-led growth policy in an open debate held in the city of Gwangju over the weekend has made news and went viral on the internet.
 
Bae Hoon-cheon, who ran coffee shops in Gwangju and Damyang, South Jeolla called the policy “ignorant, impotent and irresponsible.” Comments poured out in sympathy with his criticism “for hitting the nail on the head.”
 
He called minimum wage increases outrageous as the “leftist elites who know nothing about ordinary people’s lives were telling us that we don’t deserve to run a business if we can’t afford hires at hourly pay of 10,000 won ($9).” Some even wrote that predatory employers who cannot pay employees 10,000 won per hour are better without, and the faster they go down, the better the society will be.” He continued, “I had pride in my profession of roasting coffee, but I suddenly became an evil who should be eliminated.”
 
The part about part-time hires caught my attention most. He said he does not seek hires unless it is really necessary. When he needs extra help, he hires someone who would work less than 15 hours per week and with experience. In the past, few would want such short-hour jobs. But these days, recruits are found on the same day of posting an opening. Calls keep coming to the extent of disturbing business, he said. “Those living in the castle in the sky of Gangnam have wrecked the habitat of the ordinary people and self-employed living in the lower stream.”
 
Bae also spoke about the side effects of the state-enforced cut in credit card commissions to aid merchants. After the commission cut for credit card servicing, providers of value-added networks (VAN), who lease out point-of-sale devices and solutions for counter settlements, reduced their free services and added charges for their reduced revenue from credit card issuers. Merchants even had to buy the cartridge paper for receipts that used to be free. Sales also plunged from reduced incentives from credit card issuers. A good-willed policy has resulted in ill effects. “What looked like a benefit actually translated into a harm,” fumed Bae.
 
What saved the self-employed against the Covid-19 havoc had not been government handouts, but delivery options. But the government ruined the delivery business by interfering with the market with a public-sponsored delivery app. Bae urged the government to learn the realities of merchants. The government must stop interference and reduce public role to vitalize the market, he lashed out.
 
The jobs that increased under the Moon Jae-in administration were delivery couriers and riders and part-time jobs for seniors, Bae claimed. Former President Kim Dae-jung with roots in Jeolla Province had said a politician must have the critical thinking of a scholar and worldly sensitivity of a merchant. There was a lot to learn from a merchant from Gwangju.
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