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Universal employment insurance road map ready this year: minister

Labor Minister Lee Jae-kap speaks Thursday during a press briefing at the government complex in Seoul. (Yonhap)
Labor Minister Lee Jae-kap speaks Thursday during a press briefing at the government complex in Seoul. (Yonhap)
The government will prepare a road map for a countrywide employment insurance program by the end of this year, Labor Minister Lee Jae-kap said Thursday.

Speaking at a press briefing, the minister said the goal is to close loopholes in the state-run job insurance program, which currently covers only half of the employed population. 

“We will work with a will to pass a legislation that can provide employment insurance for worker in ‘special forms of employment,’” Lee said. Workers in “special forms of employment” include day laborers, self-employed people, courier service workers, golf caddies, door-to-door salespeople and similar workers who are currently not covered by employment insurance.

The first group the ministry is eying is about 770,000 workers in nine occupations.

Significant reform is needed in business operations and economic activity verification systems to later apply the program to freelancers and self-employed, the ministry said.

According to government data, only 49.4 percent of the employed population in South Korea had employment insurance coverage in August last year.

Since the universal payout of COVID-19 disaster relief funds stemming from financial difficulties of workers from contracted overall economy, the Moon Jae-in administration has been studying ways to expand the employment insurance scheme to all workers, including the self-employed. 

During the plenary session Wednesday, the National Assembly, led by the ruling Democratic Party, passed a revision to the Employment Insurance Act that includes artists as workers so they can receive employment insurance.

“It is a new challenge in that we are applying employment insurance to artists, 70 percent of whom are freelancers,” Lee said. “We have now set up a base for employment insurance to be progressively applied to all working people, including freelancers.”

While the National Assembly Environment and Labor Committee proposed earlier to include workers in special forms of employment in the revision, the opinion was not upheld in the bill passed Wednesday.

During the press briefing, Lee also lauded that the parliament passed a bill on a package of employment support programs including provision of 500,000 won ($406) per month for up to six months to job seekers in the low-income bracket. The cash program applies to those that are not covered by employment insurance.

“The government will do all its best to launch the program starting Jan. 1 next year,” Lee said, describing it as a new layer to employment safety net.

This will increase people covered by the government’s unemployment benefits by 600,000 on top of 1.4 million covered by the above-mentioned employment insurance.

By Ko Jun-tae (