Monday, July 31, 2006

A victory against the proliferation of irregular work?

I'm not sure hat the full implications of this might be, but it seems that the government has made an announcment saying it would regularize 320,000 public workers.

[Aug 9th: UPDATE: Make that, officially, 54,000: here's the link to a Hankyoreh article on the topic]

Now this is quite signficant because (1) the government employee's union (remember in Korea there is a distinction between public employee's and civil servants in terms of status) has remained illegal and faces a lot of persecution for advocating for rights -- you may remember that I mentioned the seizure of public employees assets for illegal strikes in a 2005 article I wrote here (this doesn't mean that this work will stop as this agreement says nothing about the basic labour rights of government employees--see this statement of solidarity within public sector here); and (2) it sets a precident for private employers.

Now, I'm going to keep the question mark in the title above because I'm really not sure how this will be implemented and what the union response is and/or will be. I'll keep you posted though. For now, it seems interesting. I might even add that it could help some of Korea's economic woes by increasing domestic demand. Not sure what the effects will be in manufacturing though, as far as I know this form of demand stimulation does help the economy turn over but still leaves other long term prospects up for grabs. Readers are invited to whey in with their own opinions. Below I'll reprint the press realease from the Korean International Labour Foundation (KOILAF).

Agree[ment] on Granting Regular Worker’s Status to 320,000 Non-regular Workers in Public Sector

Comprehensive Measures to be announced in August … 200 billion won to be reflected in the next year budget

The government and the ruling Uri Party agreed on July 24th , 2006 to hire non-regular workers of public sector who work full-time on a regular basis as regular employees.

According to a news report from Labor Today on 25th, the government and the ruling Uri Party held a labor policy consultation with attendance of Kim Han-gil, floor leader and Lee Sang-soo, Labor Minister in the National Assembly, and agreed to come up with comprehensive measures regarding non-regular workers in August in order to make an example for private companies by preventing exploitation of 320,000 non-regular workers in public sector and eliminating discrimination sustained by non-regular workers.

On that day, the government reported the result of a comprehensive survey of the utilization and treatment for non-regular workers in public sector, which was conducted during the first half of this year. The governing Uri Party concluded that not many irregular workers were used in professional areas whereas many were used on a full-time and regular basis, and discrimination existed in terms of wage and welfare, and outsourcing service contracts fell far short of the market standard.

The government and Uri Party agreed to develop regulations with regard to utilization of non-regular workers to use as a guideline for reasonable workforce operation. In particular, the Party urged the government to △ make it mandatory for public organizations to hire non-regular workers who work full-time on a regular basis as regular employees △ eliminate discrimination in accordance with a bill of non-regular workers which is pending in the parliamentary Legislation and Judiciary Committee △ correct illegal use of non-regular workers or unreasonable employment contract with low wage, if any.

Officials expected that the comprehensive plan would cost the government and state-run entities an additional 200 billion won annually, and agreed to reflect it in the next year budget. To handle this matter, an inter-ministerial body will soon be established.

Rep. Je Jong-geel, chairman of a committee on social policies at the Uri Party, said in a briefing after the meeting, “the government will come up with a comprehensive plan by August. Some contract workers serving in ‘essential’ positions will be rehired as regular employees, and discrimination in wage and working conditions will be removed. As the first step, efforts will be made to grant regular job status to about 70% of non-regular workers.

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