Job Creation, One of the National Agendas

The newly introduced multiple trade union system takes effect July 1

The Korean government is striving to tackle the problem of youth unemployment, which has emerged as a social issue as it is more than double the nation's overall unemployment rate. The following are excerpts of an interview between NewsWorld and Lee Gi-gwon, vice minister of the Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL), in which he spoke about policies to promote job creation.
Question: Congratulations on your taking office as MOEL vice minister. Please tell us about your thoughts and plans upon taking office.
Answer: Taking this post is a great privilege for me personally, but more than that, I feel the heavy responsibility to do all that is in my power to create more jobs. Jobs are precisely what the people want more than ever.
For starters, to create a labor market and industrial relations that 'add more jobs,' I seek to carefully review employment and labor policies and implement each one to move in the direction of raising the quantity and quality of jobs.
Also, I will endeavor to find more common ground in economic, industrial, educational and welfare policies with a view to ensure job-friendly growth and welfare through work.
Samuel Ullman's poem "Youth" reads that youth is not a time of life but a state of mind. It is a quality of the imagination, a matter of the will, courage over timidity and adventure over the love of ease.
If the MOEL staff including myself as well as members of society move forward with this state of mind, I am confident a job-friendly culture will take root and produce satisfying outcomes. I will take the initiative and lead the way.
Q: People feel that the employment situation has not been improving. How does your ministry plan to tackle this issue?
A: Korea weathered the recent global financial crisis better than other OECD countries and jobs are increasing in terms of figures with the number of employed workers constantly on the rise. In more detail, 72,000 people lost jobs in 2009, but 323,000 found jobs in 2010. This year, 331,000 gained jobs in January, 469,000 in February and March and 379,000 in April. Still, people including youth and those in the low-income bracket continue to feel that the job situation is not getting much better.
In this regard, the government is strengthening efforts to support employment by implementing measures tailored to each group experiencing difficulties in finding jobs. For example, the government introduced the first and second 'My Work Project for Youth' in 2010 and 2011 to create 71,000 sustainable jobs favored by youth and expand employment opportunities for university students in provincial areas.
In addition, more employment support and work incentives are being provided for the low-income class with the ultimate goal of realizing welfare through work.
The Ministry is also striving to strengthen on-site job policies so that the benefits of economic recovery and job creation can be evenly shared by everyone.
Ministry officials visit 10,000 workplaces, listen to job-related grievances and after identifying the specific needs, endeavor to provide employment support and deliver the best possible solutions. As of June 15 this year, 9,186 workplaces have been visited and 7,685 job-related grievances identified, 3,218 of which were solved.
Q: Please comment on the problem of youth unemployment.
A: Korea's youth unemployment rate is the lowest among OECD members, but the nation is among the middle ranks in terms of its employment rate because of a large proportion of an economically inactive population including college students.
However, youth unemployment has emerged as a serious social issue in Korea since the youth unemployment rate of 7.3% was still more than double the overall unemployment rate of 3.2% as of May this year.
Causes for the high youth unemployment rate can be found in a mismatch in workforce supply and demand due to a highly-educated workforce, preference for experienced workers and young people avoiding job opportunities at SMEs.
As I mentioned before, the first and second 'My Work Project for Youth' are in place to create 71,000 jobs over the next two years, providing job opportunities that are stable and preferred by youth, such as employment at public institutions or overseas jobs.
As part of its efforts to help youth find jobs through startup businesses, the government runs the Creative Campus Project, designed to support infrastructure and programs for youth preparing startup businesses, and the Creative Village Project, which provides support for space, facilities and equipment to enable youth to perform creative activities in areas such as culture, arts and IT.
Moreover, the government operates a system that sends employment support advisors to college and university campuses to provide students with job consulting and job-placement services. In addition, other programs available include a youth employment academy, a training course run by firms or employers that is tailored to meet the industrial community's needs, a youth internship program to offer internship opportunities at SMEs, and an overseas employment program. In the case of the youth employment academy, 106 universities and 67 others in provincial areas operate such academies and 53 more will open in 2011.
Meanwhile, establishing sound job perceptions or career ethics across society is extremely important and it is a task that the nation must work toward together. I believe that coupling this new mindset with government efforts will gradually lead to solving the matter of youth unemployment.
Q: Multiple trade unions are allowed at a single workplace starting July 1. What is the significance of permitting multiple trade unions and choosing a single bargaining channel to hold negotiations with management?
A: Korea had received criticism from the international community for banning multiple trade unions at the company level. However, as multiple trade unions are permitted beginning July 1, this is sure to serve as an opportunity to upgrade the country's industrial relations to the levels of advanced countries.
Guaranteeing multiple trade unions at the company level will promote sound competition among trade unions, thus laying a solid foundation for an employee-oriented labor movement. Establishing industrial relations based on competition and responsibility will also lead to more transparent corporate management. In particular, it is expected to contribute to improving international assessments of the country and upgrading the national standing as it is in accordance with international standards.
Choosing a single bargaining channel to hold negotiations with management means selecting a representative among several trade unions to conduct collective bargaining. It is a measure to ensure an orderly process of collective bargaining and provide trade unions with more bargaining power.
The multiple trade union system not only complies with international standards, but will also result in more transparent industrial relations, leading to a higher sovereign credit rating, that is in turn expected to boost foreign direct investments. nw

Vice Minister Lee Gi-gwon of the Ministry of Employment and Labor.

Photo on Courtesy of MOEL

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