Nearly 1 in 10 Korean youths in their 20s was jobless last year. The youth unemployment rate at 9.1 percent was the highest since the country was hit by the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.
This growing number of unemployed young people is mainly related to the glut of college graduates who have failed to land decent jobs that can meet their expectations. The intense competition for a limited number of jobs has made many young job seekers ready to work as interns at some preferred workplaces for little or even no payment. Despite the rare chance of being hired as a regular worker after their labor without reward, most youths believe or hope that their experience of working as an intern ― as many times as possible ― will put them ahead of their peers in the job market.
Their pitiful conditions are often seized on by many employers to exploit young people as cheap labor on a short-term basis. Young job seekers have coined the term “passion pay,” which satirically refers to the reality that interns and apprentices are supposed to be passionate enough to put up with poor treatment. This practice has permeated not only private companies but also public institutions and nongovernmental organizations.
Some recently revealed cases showed that young people’s passion was abused to an extreme degree. A shop run by a prominent fashion designer was found to have paid trainees only 100,000 won in monthly wage, including overtime pay. WeMakePrice, a popular social commerce website, also came under criticism that it had exploited its 11 probationary employees in a similar manner. The employees, who were hired on condition of completing their probationary period successfully, were paid a meager daily wage for a full-time workload. The e-commerce company dismissed them after two weeks of work but re-employed them later in the face of mounting public criticism. These cases prompted government inspectors to launch a crackdown on businesses that have allegedly exploited young labor.
It is intolerable to exploit young job seekers under the pretext of providing them with opportunities to learn and gain experience. A habitual phrase seen in announcements by corporations and public institutions to recruit interns is “we will buy your passion.” Due payment should be made for their passion.
The number of youths in their 20s who applied for debt rescheduling increased by 8.4 percent from a year earlier in the third quarter of last year. This means a growing number of jobless college graduates burdened with student loans are on the verge of becoming delinquent borrowers even before entering working society. All employers should recognize that it would amount to selling their conscience if they take advantage of these difficulties facing youths to earn more profits.