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Part-timers, Temps See Little Hope in Job Market

Posted January. 16, 2009 07:58,   


A Dong-A Ilbo reporter recently visited 14 employment support centers nationwide to catch a glimpse of the dire situation facing the unemployed. The atmosphere at such centers in the provinces is in stark contrast to that of similar facilities in Seoul.

In the capital, those who visit the centers ranged in age between 20 and over 50 and hailed from a diversity of professions. This is because Seoul has fewer manufacturing subcontractors susceptible to an economic downturn.

Also well-represented were unskilled workers such as restaurant staff and security guards and those who had been employed by travel agencies, publishers and printing companies.

In the provinces, a large number of middle-aged men and women laid off while working as temporary workers sought employment. They lost jobs after their companies, mostly subcontractors, went bankrupt and were forced to downsize due to declining orders from auto, shipbuilding and construction companies. The unemployed there had less hope of finding work since provincial economies are in the worst shape.

○ Auto, shipbuilding subcontractors go belly up

Lights were off in offices and corridors at an auto parts manufacturer in Changwon National Industrial Complex in South Gyeongsang Province during regular office hours. A union placard urging withdrawal of restructuring plans was hung in one corner.

Kim Dae-won, 59, said he came here looking for work after losing his job a month ago, but had no luck. He had been in charge of assisting welding and crane work at a partner company of Samsung Heavy Industries in Geoje, South Gyeongsang Province.

Though he retired in 2007, the failure of his two children to land jobs after graduation from college forced him to return to work.

“Since the end of last year, temporary workers at some 100 partner companies of Samsung Heavy have lost their jobs en masse,” Kim said. “I came here with my former co-workers to find jobs, but the situation is the same.”

Kim Bo-hyeon, a 36-year-old unemployed man, previously worked for Wondang Heavy Industries, an outsourcing company of Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries. He worked 25 days a month until the first half of last year but lost his job after his company went under last month.

“From November last year, orders dropped abruptly and monthly sales that were normally 150 million won (108,000 U.S. dollars) fell 50 percent,” he said.

With economic conditions deteriorating, day laborers have suffered a drastic cut in income.

Jeong Deok-i, a 45-year-old day laborer, said he makes ends meet by unloading cargo at Incheon Harbor Complex in Incheon. A decline in inbound and outbound shipments significantly slashed the number of his working days. Since November last year, he has worked less than 10 days a month.

He had earned 1.7 million won (1,230 dollars) a month, but that figure fell to 800,000 won (579 dollars) in November last year.

“It will be hard to earn 700,000 won (507 dollars) this month,” Chung said. “When the Lunar New Year holidays start next month in China, shipments will drop further. I have to find more work.”

○ Unemployed flood job centers

At Ulsan Vocational Competency Development Center in the southeastern port city Monday morning, alarms frequently went off from elevators because of too many people riding. Some got off and used the stairs.

The unemployed swarmed into the center to hear a presentation on claiming unemployment benefits. To accommodate the large number of people, the venue for the presentation was changed from a small room on the 10th floor to a large auditorium on the ninth.

The same day, Gwangju Vocational Competency Development Center in the southwestern city was crowded with people applying for jobless benefits. A consultant was busy dealing with applications while answering the phone.

One 50-year-old man said he worked for an auto parts exporter until the end of last year. “The company recently dismissed 70 percent of its 1,000 temporary workers,” he said. “I worked for the company for more than eight years, but I’ve never seen the situation this bad.”

One official at the Gwangju Regional Labor Office said, “The number of applicants for unemployment benefits soared after some 300 car parts companies in the Hanam Industrial Complex in Gwangju either went bankrupt or suspended operations.”

Gwon Bang-hyeon, 29, visited Nambu Vocational Competency Development Center in Seoul to take a re-entry course, but kept clutching his cell phone during class. He said he was afraid of failing to answer the phone from a company he applied for.

Gwon said he applied at more than 100 companies over the past six months. Among them, only two companies replied but he failed to pass their interviews.

○ Job market to worsen further

In front of a factory at the Banwol-Shihwa Industrial Complex in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, home to auto parts companies, raw materials and finished goods were nowhere to be seen Tuesday. Instead, the front yard was covered by empty carts.

An executive at a manufacturer of vehicle control devices said, “We have to have our machines run idle due to lack of orders. Because we cannot lay off employees at once, we have applied for government support to maintain employment.”

According to the Ansan Vocational Competency Development Center, the number of applications for support was 20-30 a month in the first 10 months of last year. That figure soared to 225 in November and 1,171 last month.

A CEO in the Seongseo Industrial Complex in Daegu whose company receives the employment subsidy said, “If the situation further deteriorates, we cannot stay afloat because we pay a certain portion of salaries.”

Experts say the job market will get even tighter in March, when college graduates enter the market en masse.

Yoo Gil-sang, an economics professor at Korea Polytechnic University, said, “The job market is in its worst state due to prolonged youth and elderly unemployment that began in the financial crisis of 1997-98, the aftereffects of restructuring stemming from the economic slowdown, and seasonal unemployment from the large number of new jobseekers expected in March.”

mint4a@donga.com baltika7@donga.com