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[Editorial] Recognizing Temporary Workers

Posted April. 16, 2009 09:23,   


The number of jobs lost last month was 195,000, the biggest this year. The unemployment figure for March hit 952,000, inching closer to the million mark. Getting a job is growing increasingly difficult in the wake of the global economic crisis.

Stocks are rebounding and the real estate market is showing signs of picking up. These trends could be a temporary rise, however. Unemployment will likely remain high for a long period since it takes time for the job market to reflect recovery. Considering Korea’s industrial structure, an economic upturn is unlikely to result in a significant increase in decent jobs. Right now, one job is precious, full- or part-time.

By the end of June, companies must either hire permanently or let go temporary workers who have completed two one-year contracts. Employers will likely let them go before the deadline given Korea’s rigid labor laws, raising unemployment further.

Among 3.28 million irregular workers, one million are feared to lose their jobs because they will have served more than two years by June. Thus the country could see one million more people unemployed after June.

The irregular workers law was enacted in December 2006 to protect temporary workers and has been enforced since July 2007. The law, however, is working against the people it sought to protect. According to the Korea Labor Institute, around 40,000 temps were promoted to regular workers nine months after the law’s effectuation, while the number of relatively decent temp jobs shrank 640,000.

To prevent a full-blown employment crisis, a change is needed in the fundamental view of temporary workers. The ruling Grand National Party proposes that the deadline for permanent hire for temporary workers or fire be extended another four years in June. While the proposal could prevent immediate dismissal of such workers, it will only delay a resolution for four years.

Rather, Korea should recognize temporary jobs as a means to enhance labor flexibility, while expanding welfare benefits for the positions, as several European Union countries have done. The government should also consider removing the limit on the employment period for workers over a certain age to keep more people working.