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Paradox of good intentions

Posted January. 19, 2019 07:41,   

Updated January. 19, 2019 07:41


Minimum wage hikes and 52-hour workweek were introduced by the Korean government as part of goodwill efforts to provide workers with a more prosperous and leisurely life. The government has hiked the minimum by a total of 29.1 percent since last year in a bid to help increase workers’ income. It also introduced a 52-hour workweek to improve working conditions of workers who have been routinely working long hours in Korea, and to prompt companies to hire extra employees in return for shortened working hours. The goal was to enable low-income people to earn more and get better off.

Every citizen will welcome a measure that is supposedly designed to help them earn more for working less. Many people opposed the policy by raising question about the feasibility of the policy intended to create a utopia where people can earn more for working less, but the government boldly pushed ahead with the measure anyway by calling for a paradigm shift.

The government expected a hike in minimum wage would improve workers’ quality of life, but the measure only resulted in a decline in jobs. As part-timers, who are the lowest-ranked economic class among the salaried workers, have lost jobs en masse, the number of college students, who have lost a chance to work and earn some of their tuitions, has increased significantly. The minimum wage, which was hiked drastically by the Moon Jae-in administration to push for its signature income-driven growth policy, is rather dealing a devastating blow to the low-income and working class. The 52-hour workweek may have provided salaried workers with a better work-life balance and more leisure time. However, it is also causing a decline in people’s income and a drop in the completeness of the nation’s IT industry due to shorter working hours and insufficient time invested in R&D.

A Western proverb suggests "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." It means that the more hyped and exciting a policy seems to be to the public, the more wary about side-effects a country should be when actually introducing such a policy. Korea is facing a paradoxical reality wherein the good intended policies of minimum wage hikes and 52-hour workweek are making the poor even worse off. As such, the government should introduce corrective measures including a raise in the unit period of flexible working hours as quickly as possible.

Tae-Hoon Lee jefflee@donga.com