[Editorial] Real difference

By Korea Herald

Moon needs extraordinary resolve to do away with old practices

  • Published : May 29, 2017 - 17:39
  • Updated : May 29, 2017 - 17:39
It is an undeniable fact that failures of the ousted and jailed President Park Geun-hye have paved an easy way for Moon Jae-in to take over the nation’s highest elected office.

So it was quite natural that President Moon called for correcting the wrongs of the Park administration, which he succinctly called “accumulated evils.”

They include problems like concentration of power in the president, abuse of power by people close to the president and collusive ties between politics and business.

Such problems combined to allow Park and her civilian confidante Choi Soon-sil to twist the arms of chaebol tycoons to funnel money to projects controlled by the latter.

So one of the things the Moon administration should do is to do away the practice of the president or government officials putting any pressure -- direct and indirect -- to business executives regarding a policy prioritized by the chief executive.

The way the Moon administration pushes to address the problems of contingent workers -- also referred to as “non-regular or irregular workers” -- raises concerns that the new administration is not meeting public expectations that it does not repeat the same mistake of the failed administration.

There is no doubt the nation should muster all of its efforts to alleviate the hardships of contingent workers struggling with low pay and discriminatory working conditions.

But Moon is overly ambitious: He is saying that he will usher in an era of “zero irregular labor” in the public sector within his term of office. Then he needs to answer at least this question: What about the fact that about two-thirds of the nation’s 332 public enterprises and their affiliates are already losing money?

A bigger problem is that Moon’s push to reduce contingent labor smacks of the high-handed methods Park and other past presidents resorted to in promoting their pet projects.

Indeed, Moon’s call for tackling the problem has produced strong reactions from corporations. The CEO of Incheon International Airport, where Moon personally expounded his plan to create jobs and achieve the “zero irregular labor era,” promised to transfer 10,000 -- remember he is saying 10,000 not 100 or 1,000 -- contingent workers to regular status.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy have called in executives of 41 public enterprises under its supervision, and they obligingly agreed to make a total of 30,000 non-regular jobs regular ones.

Unsurprisingly, family-controlled chaebol, who are wary of the liberal government’s plan to rein them in, are following suit.

SK Broadband, an affiliate of SK Group -- the nation’s third-largest chaebol whose chief was released from jail thanks to a special pardon granted by Park -- has announced that it will give 5,200 irregular workers regular status. Lotte Group, whose chief is standing trial in connection with the Park-Choi scandal, said 10,000 contingent workers would gain regular status in three years. There will be similar announcements from more and more public corporations and private firms.

Moon’s aides insist that the government is not pressuring conglomerates. But many, including Kim Young-bae, the vice chairman of the Korea Employers Federation, think differently. Kim said that the Moon administration’s policy does not consider the situation of each individual firm and industry and such a one-sided move could give the impression that all irregular jobs are bad and reduce the aggregate number of jobs in the long run.

Moon promptly hit back at Kim – and more broadly all employers: He said that the KEF was responsible for the social polarization caused by irregular jobs and it should commit to soul-searching before criticizing.

No one who is doing business in Korea would take such a comment from a president, who has already installed activist economists renowned for their chaebol-bashing to the powerful posts of the antitrust chief and the Blue House policy aide, as a mere complaint.