Part-time policy creates low-quality jobs in SKorea

Part-time policy creates low-quality jobs in SKorea
Job hunters wait for interviews at a regional job fair for about 80 small and medium-sized enterprises in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province.

The number of part-timers in Korea has increased by about 160,000, or 9.1 per cent, over the past year to 1.91 million as of March 2014.

Data from the Ministry of Employment and Labor showed that the number of part-time jobs has notably climbed compared to the figures from the past administration. The figures were 1.52 million in 2010 and 1.53 million in 2011.

The current administration has vowed to increase the nation's employment rate to 70 per cent by 2017, up from 64 per cent at present ― one of President Park Geun-hye's key election pledges.

To achieve the goal, more than 2 million jobs need to be created over the next three years, 900,000 of which need to be part-time positions, according to employment research institutes.

While policymakers stressed that the government benchmarked the cases of expanding part-time jobs leading to higher employment rates in some European countries, pundits say the significance lies in the "quality" of the jobs.

More and more critics and opposition lawmakers point out that the part-time job policy in Korea has been producing a huge number of non-regular workers.

"Countries including the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany offer convertible jobs, under which regular employees will be allowed to opt for part-time work at their offices," said a research fellow of the Korea Labor Institute.

Their regular employee status is ensured even if they take a break from full-time work.

Researchers say, in the Netherlands, part-time jobs are considered equal to full-time positions in terms of pay, employment stability and social security.

The wage difference between full and part-time positions was only 7 per cent in the private sector and virtually zero in the public sector. In particular, the wages of full-time employees working 35 hours or more a week and part-timers working between 24 to 35 hours a week are almost the same.

In contrast, the Korean government only supports enterprises that create "new" part-time jobs, which does not guarantee job security as the enterprises prefer nonregular jobseekers.

Rep. Jun Byung-hun of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy denounced the government "for disguising part-time jobs as decent-quality employment."

Meanwhile, the government has also announced a plan to create 16,500 part-time jobs in the public sector from this year through 2017. Under the plan, the government will hire 4,000 part-time government officials and 3,500 teachers, and public organisations will hire 9,000 part-timers.

The policy has raised the problem that taxpayers will have to shoulder huge pension payments for newly recruited part-time civil servants at a time when trillions of won is already drawn from national coffers every year to make up for the shortage of pension payments for existing government officials.

Given that creating good-quality part-time jobs ― which ensure the same level of treatment and pay as full-time positions ― is easier said than done, the plan may result in the public sector producing low-quality, nonregular positions, according to researchers.

More and more pundits are raising concerns over the state-led policy, saying that the part-timer plan will ultimately deprive young people of employment opportunities as it is primarily designed for stay-at-moms and retirees.

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