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[Editorial] Imminent Crisis for Temporary Workers

Posted June. 08, 2009 08:38,   


The political circle is sitting idly even as the clock is ticking before the two-year deadline for the employment of temporary workers nears. A massive layoff of such workers is feared. The Labor Ministry has scurried to submit a bill on extending the deadline two more years, but the parliamentary labor committee has not even begun to deliberate it. Floor leaders of the ruling and opposition parties seem to operate on a leisurely pace. Ruling Grand National Party floor leader Ahn Sang-soo said the bill could be left with the committee for discussion, while his counterpart at the main opposition Democratic Party, Lee Kang-rae, pledged never to approve a bill that encourages the hiring of temporary workers.

According to the National Statistical Office, 868,000 temporary workers with more than two years of continuous service are at workplaces with five or more staff. Excluding 160,000 elderly and short-term workers not subject to the limit on employment period, the number of temporary workers whose jobs are at risk is around 700,000. At the time of economic crisis, the impact of a massive layoff of temporary workers on the domestic economy is unimaginable.

More than 60 percent of such workers are converted into regular staff. The number of temporary employees who contracts were renewed repeatedly, however, plunged from 129,000 in August last year to 6,000 in March this year. Most are presumed to have been shifted to regular employment, leaving less room for more conversions. Financial institutions and certain large corporations have converted temps to contract employment without a limited term. Most small and medium-size businesses are considering layoffs, however, because of labor expenses. State-funded organizations converted part of their temporary staff to regular status but most of the rest are slated for layoff.

What is needed is an overhaul on the law on temporary workers, which was enacted by the previous administration without considering the labor reality. If little time exists to discuss a revision while avoiding massive layoffs next month or afterwards, the next best alternative is to extend the employment period for temps to four years and then discuss the issue, as the government-introduced bill proposes.

A survey by the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry found that 55 percent of companies say they have no choice but to let go of more than half of their temporary staff if the employment deadline is not extended. Opposition parties that insist on turning them into regular staff should ditch their populist approach and face reality. Would they say the same thing if they were the employers?

With a layoff crisis imminent, temporary workers are getting nervous. The ruling party says it will convene a committee meeting itself to deliberate urgent bills, including the law on temporary workers. Its behavior so far, however, has failed to win public confidence.