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[Editorial] Lawmakers or Just Observers?

Posted July. 16, 2009 09:16,   


An average of 333 people a day have lost their jobs since the implementation of the Non-regular Workers Act early this month. This is according to a Labor Ministry survey on 8,931 of the 518,000 workplaces with five employees or more nationwide. Had the poll covered all domestic workplaces, the ranks of the unemployed would have increased significantly. If worksites with fewer employees were included, the ratio of laid-off temporary workers, 75 percent of whom will be let go, would have been higher. Hundreds of people are losing their jobs every day, but lawmakers of the main opposition Democratic Party and the progressive Democratic Labor Party seem to care nothing about this major problem.

A similar situation is unfolding at the inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong, North Korea. A South Korean shoe company will shut down its plant there next month, meaning the immediate layoff of 250 North Korean staff and 424 more by the end of next month. The company invested 5.4 billion won (4.2 million U.S. dollars) into the factory including the lease and facility investment, but suffered a cumulative loss of two billion won (1.6 million dollars) after buyers shunned deals due to strained inter-Korean relations. Unable to pay its staff, the company chose to withdraw from the complex and cut its losses.

Financial institutions are denying bank loans to companies with plants in the complex due to the gloomy business outlook, resulting in a credit crunch. As of late last month, 40,255 North Koreans were working at 106 South Korean companies at the complex. Another six companies will pull out by the end of next month. If monthly wages are raised from 75 to 300 dollars next month as demanded by Pyongyang, almost all companies will likely leave the complex. If this happens, more than 40,000 North Korean jobs will go up in smoke, yet the North blindly insists on wage and rent hikes.

The North Korean government said, “Economy does not come before politics in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” It basically said the security of the communist regime is more important than the people’s livelihood. Considering this, South Korean authorities could remain nonchalant about the situation in North Korea. But what do certain opposition lawmakers think in turning a blind eye to hundreds of workers in South Korea being laid off daily? Would the lawmakers remain ambivalent if their relatives lost their jobs?

Labor Minister Lee Young-hee visited the parliamentary environment and labor committee Tuesday to brief the secretaries of the three major parties on temporary workers, hundreds of whom are losing their jobs daily. Opposition parties have yet to make a comment, however. Democratic Party lawmakers oppose a revision to the law on temporary workers, and ruling Grand National Party members keep yielding to pressure from the opposition. Both sides deserve criticism that they are simply “observers” of mass layoffs.