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[Editorial] Policy fiasco

A rising number of temporary jobs discredits Moon’s employment policy

Many of the policies President Moon Jae-in’s administration has pursued with the purported intent of helping the less privileged have only brought more difficulties to them.

The most obvious case of such policy paradox is Moon’s strenuous drive to turn temporary jobs into permanent positions.

Just days after he took office in May 2017, Moon pledged to ensure that all temporary employees in the public sector would be given permanent status during his five-year tenure. Since then, his government has put pressure on not only public corporations but also private enterprises to turn temporary jobs into permanent ones.

Data released last week by Statistics Korea showed that the number of irregular workers in the country, which remained at 6.57 million in August 2017, exceeded 8 million for the first time in the same month of this year.

The share of the country’s workers who were temporary employees also increased from 32.9 percent to 38.4 percent over the cited period.

Moreover, the gap between the monthly wages of temporary and permanent employees reached 1.57 million won ($1,350) on average for the June-August period of this year, the largest since the state statistics agency began compiling related data in 2004.

It is ironic that the number of temporary workers has continued to rise, with their wages and other working conditions deteriorating compared with permanent employees, when the Moon administration had pledged to do the exact opposite.

Moon and his economic aides have made no mention of the embarrassing data that confirmed the outright failure of the signature policy initiative of the incumbent administration.

The failure could have been predicted.

The Moon administration has shunned the thorny task of labor reforms needed to make the job market more flexible. Its labor-friendly stance is tilted excessively toward protecting the rights of unionized regular workers at large private companies and public corporations.

With layoffs of their employees made virtually impossible, most employers have been forced to freeze new recruitments and cut their payrolls.

Over the past four years, the Moon government has created jobs with taxpayers’ money to cope with the worsening unemployment problem. But those jobs were mostly low-paid temporary ones mainly taken by older people. For instance, about 110,000 part-time manual jobs were added in the health care and social welfare services sectors in September and more than 95 percent of them were taken by people aged 60 and above.

By avoiding necessary reforms out of concerns over objections from major labor organizations, Moon’s drive to turn temporary jobs into permanent ones has actually increased the number and proportion of irregular employees.

The biggest victims of this misplaced employment policy are young people in their 20s who are taking their first steps into the world of work.

According to a recent study by the National Assembly Budget Office, the number of waged workers in their 20s stood at 3.71 million at the end of September, down 36,000 from two years earlier.

In particular, 20-something employees working more than 36 hours per week decreased by 139,000 over the cited period. By contrast, the number of young workers with a workweek of less than 36 hours rose by 103,000.

Nearly 40 percent of workers in their 20s were irregular employees, up from 32.2 percent in 2016.

Young people’s failure to land decent jobs has an adverse effect on social vitality and growth potential of a country in the long term.

If the Moon government was truly committed to alleviating difficulties of low-paid temporary workers, it should have focused on overhauling the dual structure of the labor market.

Labor reforms need to be coupled with sweeping deregulation to encourage companies to increase investment and create more well-paid jobs preferred by young job seekers.

Efforts to make the labor market more flexible are all the more necessary to cope with the diversification of employment types amid the emergence of new innovative industries and businesses.

What Moon’s successor may have to do in the first days of his term next year will be to discard the ill-conceived employment policy and take measures to encourage companies to provide young people with more opportunities to get stable, well-paid jobs.

By Korea Herald (
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