Labor circle denounces the jobs as “mere makeshifts… worsening job security of women”
Nearly 30,000 job seekers visited the 2013 Part-time Job Fair featuring Korea’s 10 major conglomerates held on November 26 at COEX, Samsung-dong, Seoul. President Park Geun-hye paid a visit to the fair, a proof that the promotion of part-time jobs with flexible working hours is the highest priority in the government’s effort to raise the employment rate to 70%.
The new part-time jobs are sparking interests from women who have had interruptions in their career. “I quit my job as a librarian after giving birth to my first child,” said housewife Kim Yeong-seon (39, Gwanak-gu, Seoul). “I want to get a job and start working again, but it’s difficult to find a job I can maintain while taking care of my kids. I wish there were more part time jobs allowing me to work around 4 hours," she added.
The government plans to create 16,500 flexible part time jobs in the public sector by 2017. Private sector is also adding a significant number. Samsung, Shinsegye, and Posco are hiring 6,000, 2,000, and 1,000 flexible part-timers respectively. Responses from female job seekers have been particularly active. 2,530 women applied for CJ Group's first "Returnship" program selecting 150 female interns, making the competition rate 17 to 1. To help increase flexible part-time jobs in the private sector, the government provides companies with subsidies for labor cost and employee insurances, as well as tax credits.
Nonetheless, some criticize that the flexible part-time jobs are in the end no different from the existing non-regular jobs. Many women worry that promotion and career development will not be guaranteed with the flexible part-time jobs.
The labor circle expects the flexible part time jobs to decrease the quality of jobs. They argue that the new scheme will only generate more non-regular workers. There are especially great concerns about how making women whose career had been suspended work part-time would further degrade women's social status.
Korean Confederation of Trade Union held a press conference at COEX where the job fair was held and criticized that the government's flexible part time job scheme does not improve quality of jobs and rather worsens the employment conditions. KCTU further argued that "women and young job seekers will become scapegoats for the government's flexible part time job scheme which merely creates low-wage, unstable jobs." They pointed out that the average wage of the flexible part time jobs is 6,840 won which is only 44.7% that of regular workers and 73% that of non-regular workers.
Wu Mun-suk, head of KCTU's Non-regular Workers' Strategy Division, said, "the employment condition for flexible part-timers is too poor. 26.3% of the flexible part time after-school teachers are supposed to work less than 15 hours a week. Such requirement is exploiting the fact that those who work less than 15 hours are not protected by the Labor Standards Act." Wu added, "flexible part-timers are being forced to receive low wage, stay outside the Labor Standards Act, and even work for free."
Experts say that the flexible part-time jobs can only become a quality option if the employees are allowed to switch to full-time without any pressure or disadvantages. Thus, they argue that the government should provide more incentives for the part-time jobs. There is an especially great concern about protecting the working conditions of short-hour workers.
"It would be desirable for the government to take a two-track approach, addressing the issue of protecting the working conditions of short-hour workers on one hand and providing more incentives to attract job seekers for the growth of flexible part time jobs," suggested Park Ji-sun, professor at Korea University Law School. "There is a need for a clearer definition of part-time workers and overtime work regulations so that companies and organizations cannot avoid the legal mandates to protect workers," he added. Park pointed out that the current definition of "short-hour work" is not clearly differentiated from "part-time work", pushing it outside the boundaries of labor law and social security system, and making it to be considered a low-quality job with no future. "It should be clarified whether the flexible part-timers will be provided with all fringe benefits the regular employees receive or only partial benefits in accordance to their working hours, to make sure there is a balance between the Labor Standard Act's principle of working hour-based estimation and the Part Time Workers Protection Act's anti-discrimination principle," Park highlighted.