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(LEAD) Moon urges policy measures to shield employment amid coronavirus crisis

All News 15:50 April 13, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with remarks on previous economic crisis in paras 6-7, quarantine, elections in last 6 paras)
By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, April 13 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in on Monday instructed his economic team to map out timely "special" measures to insulate jobs in the private sector, hours after the release of a report showing a surge in the number of dole applications in South Korea.

He stressed the need to help firms maintain employment despite challenges from the coronavirus pandemic and suggested an initiative by the public sector for those who are not covered by the government's insurance system.

He pointed out that the number of people filing for unemployment benefits here has begun to rise sharply.

In March, the country's unemployment benefits payment hit a record high of 898.2 billion won (US$736.4 million), up 40.4 percent from a year earlier, according to the labor ministry. A total of 156,000 people formally sought dole in the month, a 24.8-percent rise on-year.

"This may be (just) the beginning of pain," the president said at the start of his weekly meeting with senior Cheong Wa Dae aides, opened to pool reporters. "We should draw up special measures without losing an opportunity. In the phase of an economic crisis, the government will focus policy capabilities on protecting jobs."

President Moon Jae-in holds a weekly meeting with his senior aides at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on April 13, 2020. (Yonhap)

He recalled South Korea's experience of massive layoffs during the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s.

"We should not let it repeat," he said.

The focus should be on helping companies maintain employment despite difficulties, Moon added, calling for a review of how to provide "maximum support" in a bold and aggressive manner.

He announced that the job issue would be on the agenda at an emergency economic council meeting to be held next week. He did not reveal the exact date, but his statement put pressure on related policymakers to come up with specific measures in the coming days.

Moon also expressed concerns about a "blind spot" in the employment insurance program, referring to the self-employed, freelancers and other vulnerable workers.

"The public sector cannot help playing a role," he said, calling on the government to explore measures such as advancing public projects and offering temporary emergency jobs.

The liberal Moon administration is already under fierce criticism, mainly from conservative forces, for spending a huge amount of taxpayers' money to create public-sector jobs.

Meanwhile, Moon emphasized the importance of containing COVID-19, describing quarantine as a "starting point" for putting the economy back on track.

He cited the "quarantine Korean Wave" amid growing popularity abroad of South Korea's test kits and other medical products.

The international community, he said, is paying keen attention to South Korea's parliamentary elections that effectively got under way last week with early voting.

More than 11 million South Koreans cast their in-person ballots at polling stations last Friday and Saturday, and there have been no reports of major quarantine loopholes. Tens of millions of other voters are expected to go to the polls on Wednesday.

If South Korea holds the national elections with limited spread of the virus, it would give the world some hope of an early return to normal life, according to Moon.

Nonetheless, he emphasized, it's still too early to be at ease. "The biggest internal enemy is complacency," he added.

lcd@yna.co.kr
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