Tag Archive | "labor"

Changes in South Korea’s Workplace Culture

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

  • 97% of respondents in a survey noted that they experienced ‘gapjil’ (a Korean term meaning abusive behavior by those in positions of power) in the workplace.
  • Last year, South Korea implemented the 52-hour workweek system.
  • In addition, a new anti-harassment law went into effect on July 16, 2019.

Implications: Recent efforts by the South Korean government to improve working conditions are showing signs of success. Following amendments to the Labor Standards Act, the Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, a nongovernmental organization called Gapjil 119 published a report that showed a considerable increase (2.8 times higher) in workplace harassment reporting. This may suggest that the new laws are encouraging workers voice their rights. One survey showed that 64.5 percent of respondents said they could reject attending “hoesik,” and other after-work hour staff gatherings, which used to be considered mandatory. Along with other government policies such as the 52-hour workweek system, these new laws are setting the ground for improvements in South Korea’s workplace culture.

Context: There is still a lot of space for improvement. Only 40% of Korean workers think harassment at work has decreased since the introduction of the new laws. Furthermore, large and middle/small enterprises are regulated differently. It is also not clear how familiar workers are with their rights. Gapjil 119 also pointed out several limitations of current law, including the lack of enforcement measures, vague terminology, not being applied to companies with less than five employees, etc.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Soojin Hwang, Hyoshin Kim, and Rachel Kirsch.

From user Joop on flickr

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Strikes Without Bite

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

  • From October 7 to October 9 workers on Line 9 of the Seoul Metro went on strike, demanding the recognition of security personnel as full-time employees and other rights.
  • The strike ended when the union negotiated a 5.7% base pay raise as well as additional benefits.
  • Despite 125 workers participating in the strike, the metro reported no delays. This can be attributed to a law that requires unionized workers in the Seoul metro to continue running a portion of trains throughout the day.

Implications: The metro strike provided a glimpse into why labor unions in South Korea wield so little bargaining power. In addition to laws that require metro workers to provide uninterrupted operations during rush hour, the city deployed non-unionized substitute workers to affected stations and a fleet of buses in preparation for any possible disruptions. Union leaders accurately interpreted the mandatory operation of trains as “neutralizing” the impact of the strike.

Part of the weakness also stems from unions being organized by locality and corporation. For instance, Line 9 of the Seoul Metro went on strike without the support of other lines or other public transportation workers. This prevents industry-wide actions and bargaining, which is more common in Western labor markets.

Context: Although the Line 9 strike has been resolved, Korean commuters are not quite in the clear yet. Unionized workers on Lines 1-8 plan to strike October 16-18, and those working on the Seohae line, a commuter line into Seoul, plan to strike on October 15. The Korean Railway Workers’ Union also went on strike over the weekend. Operating capacity of KTX trains fell to around 72.4%. However, as with the strike on Line 9, the government’s auxiliary measures mitigated its impact on commuters.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Soojin Hwang, Hyoshin Kim, and Rachel Kirsch.

Image from user LERK on Wikimedia Commons

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Gender Discrimination in Job Interviews Contributes to Workforce Inequality

By Jenna Gibson

What interests you about this job? What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses? What are your measurements?

One of these questions would raise red flags if asked by a potential employer here in the United States, but it is still relatively common in Korea. One woman who recently applied for a job as a nursery school teacher said she was asked about her family’s economic background, her weight, and whether she planned to continue working after getting married. She is not alone – according to the Korea Herald, in 2014 there were 630 reported cases in which job postings asked for “good-looking” candidates. And surely many more of these types of incidents went unreported.

Technically, these types of questions and other discriminatory practices are illegal in Korea. But they are still so commonplace that the Ministry of Employment and Labor announced on November 3 that they would be cracking down on violations.

According to Labor Ministry official Nah Young-don, who is in charge of youth and women policy, “The corporate culture that violates job seekers’ privacy by asking about marital status and appearance is a problem, but what’s more worrisome is that many companies are not aware of the illegality of such practice.” To help remedy this, the Ministry is sending information on discrimination rules to thousands of major companies. Specific guidelines include: do not specify that a post is for men or women only without a specific reason, do not ask personal questions during the job interview, and do not include requirements related to appearance in job postings.

Violating discrimination laws does carry a 5 million won ($4,400) penalty, but according to the Korea Herald many companies have merely been issued warnings in the past. The Ministry says it will now start handing out fines more broadly.

Of course it’s important to crack down on blatantly discriminatory questions and requirements. However, the Korean government has to go a lot farther if it is going to solve the issue of gender inequality in the workforce.

One major issue that remains is the use of photos on resumes. What good is it to ban interview questions about appearance when the employer will still be able to view the applicant before they even step into the room? The use of photos on resumes is discouraged by the Labor Ministry, which released a standardized resume format in 2007 that excluded categories like height, weight and family background. However, a bill that would specifically ban the inclusion of photos in job applications has been lingering in the National Assembly for three years with no sign of movement.

Korea scored the lowest in the OECD on The Economist’s recent “glass-ceiling index,” which measures female labor-force participation, wage gap, and women in leadership positions. The United States has room to grow as well – at 58.2 points, America is below the OECD average of 60.3 on this index.

During her presidential campaign in 2012, President Park Geun-hye emphasized the importance of addressing the issues women face in the workforce, saying, “More participation of women in the economy is a core engine for the nation’s growth.” And her administration has taken some steps to ameliorate the situation, strengthening the coordinating role of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and setting a target ratio for female managers across the public sector.  Despite these steps, major obstacles remain for Korean women in the workplace. Tackling the discrimination they face before even being offered a job will not solve all these issues, but it certainly is a good place to start.

Jenna Gibson is the Associate Director for Communication Technology and Programs at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. KEI intern Juni Kim contributed to the infographic in this post.

Photo from Republic of Korea’s photostream on Flickr Creative Commons.

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