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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 31)

All Headlines 07:01 October 31, 2019

Result of policy failures
:Employers should no longer exploit irregular workers

The Moon Jae-in administration cannot avoid criticism for failing to reduce the number of irregular workers. President Moon has only proved that his liberal government has made no progress in turning such workers into regular employees to ensure job security and better pay.

According to data released Tuesday by Statistics Korea, the number of irregular workers jumped to a record high of 7.48 million in August from 6.61 million a year earlier. The figure accounted for 36.4 percent of the total workforce, the highest level since March 2007 when it stood at 36.6 percent.

The number of regular workers fell by 353,000 to 13.07 million from a year before, marking the first time since 2011 that the number has decreased. This explains how difficult it is to create more regular jobs amid the prolonged economic downturn caused by sluggish investment and exports.

The government went all-out to downplay the deteriorating job situation by citing a change in the calculation method. Statistics Korea Commissioner Kang Shin-wook, Vice Labor Minister Im Seo-jeong and Vice Finance Minister Kim Yong-beom attributed the surge to the International Labor Organization (ILO) changing how it categorizes workers. They said up to 500,000 employees were added to the category of irregular workers due to the new ILO statistics standard.

However, their explanation just sounded like a lame excuse. The fundamental problem was certainly caused by President Moon's ill-conceived job creation policy which has Inadvertently focused on offering citizens short-term and temporary public sector jobs, particularly people in their 60s. This has only overshadowed Moon's pledge to create quality jobs and curtail the number of irregular workers.

At the start of his administration, Moon made efforts to turn irregular workers in government agencies and state-run enterprises into regular ones. Yet, his government has yet to produce successful results in reducing irregular employees, especially in the private sector.

Moon's other policy of drastically increasing the minimum wage and introducing a shorter workweek has also caused businesses, especially smaller firms and the self-employed, to hire fewer workers to save on labor costs. Therefore it is more accurate to say that the combination of Moon's policy failures and the economic slump was responsible for the dire employment situation.

What's more serious is that the income gap between regular and irregular workers has widened. Official statistics showed that irregular workers made an average 1.72 million won ($1,477) per month between June and August, only 54 percent of the 3.16 million won for regular workers. The income disparity widened to 1.43 million won, the largest ever, up 71,000 won from the same period in 2018.

Now the government should work out radical measures to cut down on the number of irregular workers. It should not ignore the stark reality that four out of 10 Korean workers are not on regular payrolls. Irregular workers have suffered unbearable discrimination in wages and working conditions not to mention job security. Employers should no longer exploit such workers.

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