SEOUL - Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon kicked off his second term on Tuesday amid a dispute over volunteers who participated in his "zero-cost" inaugural ceremony.
The event, which took place in front of City Hall, is being criticised by some netizens, who say the city exploited labour in order to save money.
Everyone who participated in the event contributed their services for free, while the city spent nothing.
It was hosted by an unemployed woman in her 20s who dreams of becoming a flight attendant, with performances by an amateur singer and a children's orchestra.
"Donations (and volunteering) are supposed to serve the public interest," wrote a netizen named Moon-eo on Facebook.
"But if you are doing something for free for a politician's inaugural ceremony, whether it is for Park Won-soon or Barack Obama, it is hard to think that you are doing it for the public. It is a political activity. And it is questionable if it is ethical for the city government, which is run by taxes, to not pay the participants for contributing to an event like this."
"Talent donation," providing one's skills for free for a good cause, has been a source of debate in Korea for a number of years, especially in the country's arts and culture sector.
Some have been arguing that it is a type of exploitation of labour, as many young artists and writers are left with no option but to work for free as they need more experience to build their career.
Sung Young-rok, a professional painter, thinks there is a perception in Korea that it is "shallow" to charge money for one's artistic labour. He has been asked to "donate" his paintings by a number of companies, which told him this would give him more exposure.
"Whenever I talk to those who are not interested in the arts, I feel like they don't consider painting as my occupation, but rather as a hobby that I do because I have a lot of spare time and money," he told The Korea Herald.
Park, whose first term as mayor lasted from 2011 to last month, was reelected in the June 4 local elections ― defeating his rival and conservative candidate Chung Mong-joon.
The former lawyer and human rights activist was criticised during his first mayoral election campaign in 2011 for running unpaid internships at the Hope Institute, a think tank he founded in 2006 to promote solutions to social problems.
"Those who participated in the inaugural ceremony did it because they all wanted to volunteer," Seoul City official Oh Hyung-chul told The Korea Herald.
"They may not have been paid, but the experience they gained is invaluable. Everyone seemed to be rather honoured to partake in the event. The children's orchestra, for example, consists of children from less-fortunate households, and they wanted more exposure."
During the inaugural ceremony, Park vowed to make citizens his top priority during his second term in office, focusing on public safety and economic development.
"Once again, Seoul will try to become warm and safe with hopes and dreams, (a place) where people always come first," he said in his inauguration speech.