The number of non-regular workers in Korea has exceeded 8 million mark for the first time, while the number of regular workers dropped from 13 million threshold. The wage gap between regular and non-regular workers was also the largest since statistical recording. Contrary to President Moon Jae-in’s promise to “ensure zero non-regular workers in the public sector during his term” during his visit to the Incheon Airport Corporation in May 2017 right after his inauguration, the bipolarization of the labor market has worsened.
The number of non-regular workers, which was 6.48 million in 2016, continued to grow under Moon’s term, despite the president’s target campaign to create more jobs. The government explains that the growth comes from statistical change, with fixed-term workers reclassified as non-regular workers. However, this change alone is not enough to explain the 640,000 growth year-on-year in non-regular workers and the collapsing number of regular workers to 12 million. The rigidness of the labor market, which is the lowest among advanced countries, make it difficult for businesses to lay off workers. The recent surge in minimum wage also discourages companies and employers from hiring new workers. Public jobs created for the youth, which the government has been pouring a massive amount of public money in, turned out to be only unstable, non-regular jobs that do not offer career benefits.
The damage of the government’s labor policy is inflicted on the youth, who sided with and welcomed Moon’s policies for strong labor unions and advocating regular workers. Non-regular workers in the 20s, which account for 40%, are higher than other age groups, showing an increase of 7.8 percent from five years ago. They are trapped between older age groups that have already occupied secure jobs and get by changing jobs from one to another. Impacted by Moon’s policy five years earlier and forced to convert 196,000 non-regular jobs to regular jobs, public corporations and institutions have cut down on new hires, narrowing opportunities for new graduates looking for jobs.
At a recent speech at the National Assembly, President Moon proudly mentioned that last month’s employment figures show that Korea has recovered 99.8% from pre-COVID levels. However, the reality is that the new jobs being created are simply non-regular or part-time jobs, despite improved export performance and eased social distancing.
To reverse the situation, the government and political circles need to convince trade unions to revamp corporate wage systems based on work performance and competence, which would reduce over-protection on regular workers. The government should give up on the idea that quality jobs would be created through wrestling with public and large corporations and instead focus on labor market reform and deregulation.