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Business, labor at odds over employment period for temps

By Kim Min-hee Korea Herald, 24 April 2000

With this July marking the second anniversary of the labor lease system, the business and labor sectors remain sharply divided on the issue of extending the legal employment period for temporary workers hired under the system.

Existing law places a two-year ceiling on the employment period for temporary workers, which means employers will soon have to start laying off such employees or promoting them to full-time status.

The impending anniversary puts the job security of more than 53,000 temporary workers at risk.

The Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) recently appealed to the government for a one-year extension of the employment period, saying business operations would suffer from the sudden absence of temporary workers and have to bear the added burden of training new employees.

The restriction on the period of employment for temporary workers was introduced with the aim of encouraging employers to hire temporary staff as full-time workers. However, most businesses can’t afford to do so, said a KCCI official.

Once the employment term is over, businesses typically hire new temporary staff or hire former staff members as temporary or contract workers, aggravating the problem of growing job insecurity, the KCCI official said.

Local labor groups are strongly opposed to extending the employment period for temporary staff.

Since the labor system was introduced, there have been all kinds of illegal dealings between businesses and temporary employment agencies. As promised, temporary workers should be given full-time status once they complete the two-year term, said the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, one of the nation’s two umbrella labor groups.

The Labor Ministry said it would be difficult to revise related labor laws at this point and stood by its position that temporary workers whose two-year term is over should be rehired, whether it be on a full-time, temporary or contract basis.

In order for the manpower lease system to take root, both labor-leasing agencies and employers should make efforts to guarantee employment security for temporary workers and improve working conditions, a Labor Ministry official said.

In a separate matter, the government plans to clamp down on businesses suspected of forcing employees to work long hours.

The Labor Ministry announced yesterday that 619 firms in the manufacturing as well as the transportation, storage and communications sectors would be subject to stepped up monitoring from the end of this month through July.

The two sectors chalked up the nation’s highest average working hour figures last year with 50 and 49.9 hours per week, respectively.

The ministry will focus upcoming inspections on whether businesses have been obeying the law on working hours and holidays, and whether extended working hours were approved by labor groups.