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Yoon proposes new law for gig, freelance workers

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : May 14, 2024 - 15:19

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A delivery driver cruises along a street in Seoul. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) A delivery driver cruises along a street in Seoul. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

President Yoon Suk Yeol said Tuesday his government has proposed a law to protect the rights of what he called "underprivileged workers" in South Korea.

Yoon referred to gig workers, independent contractors and freelancers who are often temporarily employed and do not have the job security, standard four basic insurances, paid annual leave or severance guaranteed to regular employees under the country's Labor Standards Act.

The proposed legislation will protect the rights of such workers in Asia's fourth-largest economy, including those who work as delivery drivers for food, packages and other on-demand services, as well as hired designated drivers, according to Yoon.

A "delivery service mutual aid society" will be established to allow delivery service workers to receive financial aid pooled by other members in the event of illness, injury or unemployment, according to Yoon. He said the government plans to lower delivery drivers' insurance premium cost burden, which discouraged more than half of total delivery workers from buying insurance from private insurers.

The proposed legislation will include the establishment of a dispute arbitration council so that gig workers and independent contractors can quickly resolve disputes, according to Yoon.

The framework of the proposed law will also contain a standard employment contract for such underprivileged workers, which is the legal basis for financial support projects to protect their rights and interests, he said.

"In South Korean society, there are many disadvantaged workers who cannot properly share the fruits of the country's growth," Yoon said during a policy debate he presided over in Seoul.

"There are workers protected under the umbrella of labor unions, but there are also unorganized and irregular workers who are marginalized, as well as gig and platform economy workers that have emerged with recent changes in labor patterns," Yoon said. "If you ignore the reality of these underprivileged workers when carrying out labor reform, it cannot be called proper reform."

However, Yoon did not lay out a detailed time frame for the proposed legislation.

President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks during the 25th policy debate held in Seoul on Tuesday. (Pool photo via Yonhap) President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks during the 25th policy debate held in Seoul on Tuesday. (Pool photo via Yonhap)

Yoon also called for a separate system of a "labor court" in South Korea's judicial branch. Korea separately runs a family court, an administrative court, a patent court and a bankruptcy court.

"With the labor court, it is high time not only to address any Labor Standards Act violations but also to handle any criminal or civil court proceedings with respect to labor violations in one track," Yoon said.

The Labor Standards Act covers registered employees in companies with five or more employees.

Moreover, Yoon pledged a special inspection of employers who constantly fail to pay gig workers or independent contractors their salaries on time.

Plus, the Labor Ministry will set up a new unit dedicated to gig workers and independent contractors on June 10.

The 25th policy debate session, held for the first time since the ruling party's crushing defeat in the April parliamentary election, was attended by some 70 contingent workers, including on-demand delivery drivers, construction site workers, clothing factory workers and other contract workers.

All 24 previous policy debate sessions -- which Yoon had initially said were to replace New Year briefings -- took place between January and March.

Yoon said Tuesday he plans to organize such sessions on Jeju Island, as well as in Gwangju, North Gyeongsang Province and North Jeolla Province. On Sunday, presidential spokesperson Kim Soo-kyung said Yoon's office will resume the policy debate sessions starting this week.