[Press] [Politics] Park pushes labor reform for youth (7 Aug 2015)



Park pushes labor reform for youth (7 Aug 2015)

Park pushes labor reform for youth

President Park Geun-hye on Thursday pressed ahead with her labor reform initiative, urging the nation to share her drive to create new jobs for young Koreans and to revive the sluggish economy.

Putting labor reform at the top of her state agenda, the president said in a nationally televised public address that she would “aggressively push” for flexibility of the labor market ― long criticized for being overprotective of employees that discouraged companies to hire more.
“This is the time when we should make a decision for our daughters and sons, and for the future of the country,” she said in her public address delivered at Cheong Wa Dae.

“Labor reform is (all about) creating new jobs. Without overhauling the sector, we cannot save young Koreans from despair and resolve the pain of irregular workers,” she said.

Park’s speech came at a crucial time, two weeks before the halfway mark of her five-year term.

The speech was her fourth public address since entering office in 2013. The president was widely seen as seeking public support for her reform measures, which have been delayed by the unprecedented outbreak of the Middle East respiratory syndrome and also a series of political scandals involving her close confidants.

Park’s reform drive has been losing steam amid intensifying partisan rivalries ahead of the general elections next year. She appeared to be seeking fresh momentum for her state management by betting on the success of the labor reform, a difficult task at which previous administrations had failed.

The unemployment rate among young South Koreans aged 15-29 stood at 10.2 percent in June, significantly higher than the overall jobless rate of 3.9 percent, according to the government.

In her speech, the president vowed to implement a wage peak system for all public offices within this year, promising that the money saved by the plan would create about 8,000 new jobs in the next two years.

She also pledged to strengthen the social security net by raising unemployment allowance from the current 50 percent to 60 percent of their previous salaries. The unemployment benefits will be given for 30 additional days to help the unemployed pursue a stable life while seeking new jobs. Currently, the government grants unemployment allowances for up to 240 days.

She also vowed to overhaul public companies often denounced for their lax management and low productivity.

Stressing that she was standing before the people with “a sense of urgency,” Park urged the older generation to share the pain of young people left unemployed due to the lack of jobs in the market. She also asked them to gradually give up their vested interests so that young people could start a family and become confident members of society.

“Creating more jobs for young people is the foundation of building a healthy society and key to tackling low birthrates,” she said.

The president, however, didn’t mention the government’s lax management of MERS that hit hard the nation since early summer, nor her plan to possibly grant clemency to business tycoons.

The speech was delivered with reporters attending, but ended without a Q&A session.

In her 25-minute speech, the president also called for restructuring in the education, financial and service sectors to revitalize the nation’s faltering economy.

Park also urged a tripartite committee to resume a stalled negotiation meant to make concessions between stakeholders on the labor reforms.

“I earnestly request (representatives from) the labor and the management to make room for each other and reach a grand compromise to live up to people’s expectations.”

The dialogue has been stalled since April, after an umbrella labor union boycotted the negotiations with the government and business.

On education, she pledged to expand the test-free semester program next year to let students explore their fields of interest rather than limiting themselves to textbooks.