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The Peninsula

Precarity of Irregular Workers

Published May 13, 2020

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • Family members of workers who died in a recent warehouse blaze are expected to be minimally compensated since most of the victims were workers without full-time contracts.
  • The Ministry of Employment and Labor reported that workers with part-time contracts were losing jobs at a rate 70 times greater than that of workers in full-time positions.
  • On May 1, the presidential office proposed expanding unemployment insurance to all of the economically-active citizens, including self-employed and part-time laborers.

Implications: South Korea’s social safety net remains fragile as only half of the country’s workforce is eligible to receive unemployment insurance. Day laborers are a particularly vulnerable cohort as they are excluded from unemployment benefits but are most heavily exposed to layoffs in the post-COVID economic slump. A deadly warehouse fire also brought attention to the fact that these irregular workers receive less public assistance when they are victims of workplace accidents. In response, the Moon administration has proposed expanding unemployment insurance, alongside other measures.

Context: Advocates have called for the expansion of unemployment insurance since the early 2000s. A revision to the Employment Insurance Act was proposed in 2018, which would cover workers with different types of employment contracts and artists. However, the revision failed to move forward because it faced opposition from the business community. However, economic hardships brought on by COVID-19 are bringing attention to the disproportionate pains that will be felt by irregular workers.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, Hyungim Jang, and Ingyeong Park.

Picture from flickr user Arnaud Matar

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