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Time for a rational approach

May 29,2017
President Moon Jae-in has joined the battle on improving the rights of the so-called irregular workforce across the industry after a major business lobby group resists the president’s key campaign promise. It started with the remarks by Kim Young-bae, vice chairman of the Korea Employers Federation (KEF), at a forum last week in Seoul. Kim said that the conflict between employers and employees will deepen if the new administration presses ahead with its new labor policy of reducing the number of non-regular workers so they can work as full-time, salaried workers as their regular counterparts do.

The Blue House expressed regrets by holding the industry lobby group accountable for the ever-worsening polarization of our society, and called for their better treatment. Kim Jin-pyo, chairman of the government’s advisory committee for state affairs planning, which serves as a transitional committee after the May 9 snap election, and Choo Mi-ae, leader of the ruling Democratic Party, also joined the bandwagon to attack the KEF.

It is not the time for us to ponder if strong reactions from the ruling camp deserve a thumbs-up, as it is not productive to weigh both sides’ positions through the simple standards of right and wrong.

First of all, we can hardly apply the promotion of the “irregular workforce” to all local companies as it needs a case-by-case application in reality. The popular term covers various types of employment ranging from contract workers to subcontract workers. Statistics Korea says one in three workers belongs to the “irregular workforce,” while labor unions claim that nearly one out of two workers pertains to the category.

Some economists point out that if the government sticks to its belief that the types of jobs should be removed as they are bad, it only will worsen our job market. Because 95 percent of our non-regular workforce is hired by small and midsize companies and mom-and-pop stores, the government should take a careful approach by reducing those jobs while minimizing the impact. In Korea, chaebol’s practice of domineering over their small contractors has long been under fire, but what to do with the same practice between contractors and their subcontractors?

Our previous administrations also came up with slogans to reform the deep-rooted unfair employment structure, but they ended up with more irregular workers. The government must find better ways to address the issue than simply attributing it to chaebol greed.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 29, Page 34