firmly in place has been confirmed through an abundance of historical evidence.
Pros and Cons of Irregular Job Measures
Recently, the government announced that it would undertake the measures for irregular positions in the public sector, including central administrative institutions, regional governments, national and public schools, government-chartered institutions and others through the cabinet meeting. The government expects that this measure would bring the improvement of treatment and strengthening the financial security of approximately 100,000 laborers engage in the irregular jobs in public sector, and the working conditions of approximately 40,000 public sector service and dispatch laborers. Another word, the plan is to expand the employment security and improvement of the status with the conversion of about 60% of 234,000 irregular position workers in the public sector into the regular positions or given indefinite contract or automatic renewal of contract.
It is inevitable as well as desirable for the government to come forward in resolving the discrimination against the irregular position workers where the government is one of the employers as well. In spite of that, it is also true that there is much concern in the industries for the governmental measure.
The current measure causes some concerns for it may weaken the drive for reform under the disguise of irregular position measures. The government that is operated with the taxes of people has the responsibility to pursue the maximum efficiency with the minimum expenses, and for this purpose, pursuing the intense government reform including the reduction of the governmental organization or cut down on the government employees are the normal policies in most countries. However, the announcement of expanding the budget and government organization all of a sudden in totally different direction from the direction of the government reform to this point would bring the people's concern that the drive of the government for reform may be regressed. The additional expenses paid for the government to express itself as generous spender would have to return to all people as a burden.
Another issue is the process of policy decision of the government. Whether the current governmental action was the best alternative would have to be different depending on the position of each sector. However, it could be a significant problem not to go through with sufficient hearing procedure in advance for such diverse opinions. While announcing this action, the government did not even bother to present the budget situation that it has to encounter the accusations of intentionally curtailing the national burden aspect. Even if the policy decision of the government was right, the decisions on important policy would be desirable if the process of gathering national opinion on publicity drive and persuasion on people has been taken.
Lastly, the biggest problem of the current irregular position measures is that the government accepted substantial portion of the assertion of the labor sector that it may cause significant side-effects in resolving the irregular job issues in the private sector. On the controversial irregular job issue, the labor sector insists on abolition of the discrimination against the irregular position and demands for turning the irregular positions into the regular positions, and substantial wage increase of irregular position (85% of regular position) and other employment security and better treatment of irregular position. Compared to those demands, the management side has the position of having the improvement of system and practice made first or simultaneously since the gap between the regular job and irregular job comes from the excessive employment protection and high wages on regular jobs. Under the situation, the substantial accommodation of the demands of labor sector by the government for turning into the regular job, employment security, better treatment and others as the measure for irregular position in the public sector would cause a significant concern that it implies the direction of policy on private sector even if the individual special feature are considered. In addition, the situation is that the attack of irregular position in the labor sector is strengthened that the industrial site would have the possibility of expanding the unnecessary labor-management conflict.
Currently, the issue of irregular position has been generating the social consensus by stimulating the protective sentiment of the general public since it has the concept of vulnerable class of laborers contrasted to the regular jobs, however, looking into the details of it, the problem is not all that simple. Originally, the term of ‘irregular position' is not a concept that is academically used that the dispute on the ‘irregular position' among the scholars has been continued. However, under the ‘Economically Active Population Survey' of the National Statistical Office, the wage laborer are classified into ordinary job, temporary job, and daily job with temporary job and daily job classified as ‘irregular position', but this is attributable to the lack of understanding on the standard of statistical classification. For example, the ‘temporary job' is classified on the surface as the laborer with ‘on month or longer to one year or less of employment contract period', however, under the domestic situation where the practice of employment contract is very rare, acceptance of retirement allowance is used as the most important standard for the classification. However, under the law, the retirement allowance is applied on the business premises with 5 or more employees that most of the labors with less than 5 persons is classified as ‘temporary job'. Therefore, in the event that the temporary and daily jobs of the National Statistical Office is 'mistaken' as the ‘irregular position', the absurd argument that a half of entire laborers in Korea would be in the irregular position.
On the other hand, in the statistics internationally quoted such as OECD or BLS, the laborers with limited term for the labor contract term are classified as 'Contingent worker/Temporary worker' that has the similar concept to the ‘irregular position'.
Since the controversy on the concept and size of ‘irregular position' have surfaced, the National Statistical Office has undertaken more segmented supplement survey on the irregular position from 2001, and the Korea Tripartite Commission (KTC) has prepared the standard of irregular position. According to the result of the supplementary survey of the National Statistical Office, if the criteria of OECD or BLS are applied, the size of Korea's irregular position is estimated at approximately 13~18% of entire labor force, and for the KTC criteria, the short-term laborer or non-typical laborers and all other forms in 2003 was shown to be approximately 32.6%. Of course, the size of irregular position itself has a room for discussion, but the size of irregular position in Korea is indeed very high worldwide.
Therefore, the discussion on irregular position requires the works of analyzing the employment characteristics of laborers that comprised the irregular position and the causes of the irregular position as well as seeking the alternatives. However, approximately 30.2% of all irregular position laborers are distributed in the small businesses of 5 persons or less, and approximately 72.4% of all is distributed to the small business sites of 30 persons or less that the irregular position actions of existing large corporation oriented actions including regular job or wage increase are not easily applicable realistically. Considering this type of characteristics, it is easily imaginable that the wage difference of regular position and irregular position ultimately is in the factor of wage gap between the corporate sizes. In deed, according to the result of the supplementary survey, the average monthly wage of 5 employees or less in workplace was 900,000 won that was only 44% of the laborers of 300 or more employees (2.05 million won), and the average monthly wage of regular positioned employees with 5-or less employees (1.06 million won) is only 3/4 of the irregular position (1.4 million won) of the large companies with 300 or more employees.
Looking in the point of view, the irregular position issue also has the issue of gap between the corporate size as in the labor-management relationship as well. Just like the situation in Korea where a small number of large company and public sector-oriented laborers determine the characteristics of the labor-management relationship, the demand of turning into the regular jobs and the demand of wage increase that can be possible in the companies with over 300 persons where it takes only 11.3% of entire irregular position laborer are discussed as if it represents the entire irregular position measures. Only in Korea.
If these demands are compulsively applied to the small companies, most of the companies with vulnerable management condition would be not able to take such a burden and those irregular position jobs would be disappeared as well. In the case of large companies on the other hand, the weight and size of the irregular position laborer are so minor that the effectiveness of the policy is trivial. Furthermore, it would be resulted in blocking off the minimal employment flexibility to undertake the demand of high wage and excessive employment protection of the labor unions for regular positions that there would be extreme labor-management conflict.
As we all know well, Korea is the second highest in the world in terms of regulations to protect employment for regular jobs. irregular position of large companies as well as the relatively poor working condition of the laborers of small & medium companies may be attributable in substantial portion to the exclusive and combat-based struggle of the labor unions of the large companies. If the issue of irregular position caused by regular job is to be placed for businesses to pay, the irregular position jobs may be jeopardized.
The core issue of the irregular position is the polarization in between the corporate scales and between the laborer groups. If the superficial action to cure the symptoms without much though on the causes such as demanding to convert irregular position into regular position, wage increase, establishment of joint fund and others without looking at those intrinsic issues, the polarized structure of the conflict will be deepened even more and the issue of irregular position will not be improved at all. Securing flexibility in the labor market and strengthening of business competitiveness are the issues directly linked to the corporate existence in the fierce global competitiveness era. It is time to expect objective recognition of the reality and make reasonable decision of the government and the labor industry on irregular position.
Lee Ho-sung (Director of Economic Research Bureau, Korea Employers Federation, firstname.lastname@example.org)