525,373 out of 2,072,550 public sector jobs are irregular positions

Posted on : 2017-06-04 08:11 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Report argues for wage capping and reinvestment of money saved into regularizing irregular workers
Members of the Seoul/Gyeonggi Province branch of the Public Sector Irregular Workers’ Union hold a press conference in front of the Korea Airports Corporation headquarters in Seoul
Members of the Seoul/Gyeonggi Province branch of the Public Sector Irregular Workers’ Union hold a press conference in front of the Korea Airports Corporation headquarters in Seoul

A total of 2.07 million people are working in South Korea’s public sector, of whom 530,000 are irregular workers (including people on permanent contracts with poor working conditions, a report has found. This is the first time an analysis has been released covering all jobs at public enterprises and in the central government and local governments.

According to a report titled “The New Administration’s Job Policy for the Public Sector” by Bae Gyu-sik, a senior analyst at the Korea Labor Institute, 2,072,550 people were employed in South Korea’s public sector last year, accounting for 7.9% of the total 26,235,000 total people employed in the country. Among these, 525,373 were irregular workers, making up 25.3% of all jobs in the public sector. This figure includes 192,768 temporary workers who are employed directly by the government, 120,655 workers who are employed indirectly by temp agencies and 211,950 people on permanent contracts. The report found that there were 1,547,177 regular employees working as employees of public institutions and as civil servants in the central and local governments (including teaching assistants educational staff).

This report was written using data from Statistics Korea and from government agencies, and was announced at an event called “The Ladder Forum: Where We Are and What Needs to Be Done to Resolve Irregular Workers in the Public Sector,” which the Hope Institute organized at the Catholic Youth Center in Seoul on May 29. “President Moon Jae-in should be praised for setting the overall goal of leading the way in solving this problem starting with the public sector, which uses too many irregular workers. But because employment types and job responsibilities in the public sector are so diverse and complicated, we need our approach to be meticulous and based on an accurate understanding of the situation,” Bae said.

As for how to convert irregular workers in the public sector into regular workers, the report proposes expanding direct employment and setting up subsidiaries that can hire regular workers. The report first recommends that irregular workers in jobs that are related to lives and safety be directly hired by creating a new hierarchy, promotion and wage system tailored to the profession and the type of work. Once the number of irregular workers in specific jobs...increases to a certain point, subsidiaries should be set up to convert them into regular workers under a hiring system that is differentiated from directly employed regular workers, the report also said. “When converting irregular workers to regular workers in the public sector, using a cookie-cutter approach that ignores job responsibilities and market conditions is not feasible and produces too much disparity with the private sector. Another concern is that this could create external social conflict with the group of people trying to get a job at public enterprises,” the report said. Today’s permanent contract jobs are an expedient that the government introduced to give workers job stability, and they lack a wage system that is commensurate to job responsibilities. As such, the report says, permanent contract jobs are little different from irregular jobs.

The report furthermore called for reform of the current wage system in the public sector. Regular workers in the public sector are guaranteed high wages until their official retirement age because of a rigid seniority-based wage system, and this leads to a substantial disconnect with the private sector, the report concluded. The report argued that high wages should be capped and that the resulting savings on personnel costs should be used to convert irregular workers to regular workers and create more jobs in the public sector. Examining wages for South Korean elementary school teachers (as of 2015), the entry-level wage was US$26,910, which was lower than the OECD average of US$31,028, but the wage for someone who had been teaching for 10 years was US$40,548, higher than the OECD average of US$39,673. The highest possible wage of US$75,297 was 46.9% higher than the OECD average of US$51,254. “We need to adopt the public sector wage disclosure system that has been adopted in countries such as Canada as a way to exercise social control over the high wages in the public sector that are propped up by taxpayers,” the report said.

By Heo Seung, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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