Monday, April 02, 2007

"Workers say law to protect backfired"

Cheon Ok-ja, Former Janitor
Gyeonggi Girls' High School in Seoul
(Image from JoongAng Daily [NEWSIS])

Yes, it did backfire. Everyone who had any sense knew that it would backfire. I knew as soon as I heard about the law that my job at Korea University would be lost if the law were passed.

What law?

I don't know its official title, but it's the non-regular workers' law passed by the Korean National Assembly last November. I first heard about the law over a year ago, when it was still being formulated and hammered out by a committee.

Like many such labor laws, it had an ostensibly good intention, as noted by Kim Soe-jung in the JungAng Daily's Saturday edition:
Under the law passed by the National Assembly in November last year, employers have to permanently hire contract employees who work for more than two consecutive years. Besides giving them job stability, the new law prohibits employers from discriminating against non-regular employees if they do the same or comparable work as regular employees.
Sounds good? Maybe. Of course, it would make the labor market inflexible if it succeeded, but anbody who reads carefully can see that such a law would never achieve its aim. Employers need merely refuse to renew a contract after two consecutive years.

Or some similar method.

According to "Ryu Chung-ryeul, an official in the National Public Service Trade Union, which represents 'non-regular' workers in schools," the law isn't working because employers:
"use diverse tactics to circumvent the new law, such as ending their contracts with temporary workers, cutting the workers' working hours so that they would not be protected by the new law and hiring workers through a staffing agency."
All completely legal means to avoid complying with the law.

There are some sad stories as individuals who had held jobs for several years. Consider Cheon Ok-ja, whose photo appears above:
Cheon Ok-ja, a middle-aged woman who used to work as a janitor at Gyeonggi Girls' High School in southern Seoul, sobbed and wiped away tears as she told her story. Ms. Cheon refused to accept the school's order to change her status from a contract worker to a "dispatched worker" hired by a staffing agency, and was fired after working 22 years at the school.
Twenty-two years of a stable job ruined by a stupid law.

Another worker who has lost his job is 47-year-old Park Ho-jun, who until a month ago "was a dormitory superintendent at Chungju National University in North Chungcheong province." Now, he is out of a job and has some harsh word about the law intended to help:
"The non-regular workers' law is not a protection law but an evil law, handing down death sentences to temporary workers," blasted Mr. Park. On Feb. 28, his contract with the university ended for good. Mr. Park began working at the college as a security guard in 2001, dispatched by a staffing agency. He got the position at the dormitory in 2005 on a contract basis with the school.

"The school has never fired a contract worker as far as I know. The law is the only reason I got fired. The school was terrified because under the law, it [now will have to] permanently hire contract workers who have worked more than two years," said Mr. Park.
I had predicted these consequences. A few weeks ago, my wife was already telling me about articles in the Korean-language newspapers confirming my prediction.

Which proves one thing.

The non-regular workers' law isn't working, but the law of unintended consequences is working just fine.



At 10:46 AM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

The "unintended consequences" should have been obvious. Clearly there's a need for economics education in the political class.

Not that any politician ever cares about economics or just plain logic.

At 11:12 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

One good thing about this. Korea has a democracy and a free press, so this law, its unintended consequences, and the public debate can educate people about the limit of a law's intent and the law of unintended consequences.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:33 AM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

Not related, but you might enjoy reading
Escape From Dear Leader to My Classroom in Seoul

At 3:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, CIV, I'll take a look.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:00 PM, Blogger Mark Russell said...

Simple truth is, the number of unemployed will never outnumber those who feel insecure about their job status. Therefore "job protection" measures are almost always good politics, because the number of votes you get far outweighs the number of people you screw over and make unemployed. Call it European Politics 101.

Not that I favor a Hobbsian battle of all against all. But the math is inherently stacked against the borderline jobless.

At 4:01 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Mr. Russell. Interesting analysis, and probably right on the mark about Europe, where lawmakers do know all about capitalist economics (having, more or less, invented it).

I wonder, though, if the Korean legislature was thinking in these terms. This labor law seems more like incompetence by well-intentioned lawmakers, the same ones who have been trying to keep prices in Seoul's housing market down through various well-intentioned but counter-productive means.

My wife voted for the Uri party when Roh was running for president, but she's been trying to learn about stock investments and how to finance loans for housing and has come around to the view that the Uri party simply doesn't understand economics. She thinks that the party's full of people from the 386 generation who read vulgar Marxist textbooks and spent their university years protesting instead of learning.

The 386 generation played an important role in democratization here in Korea, but their 20th-century views are now old-fashioned.

Thanks for visiting.

Jeffery Hodges

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