[Editorial] Backfiring policies

By Korea Herald

Pro-labor policies could boomerang on job market

  • Published : Dec 15, 2017 - 17:50
  • Updated : Dec 15, 2017 - 17:50

Recent statistics show that the job crunch is as severe as ever. A bigger problem is that the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon, because many of the government’s pro-labor policies discourage businesses from hiring.

In November, the country’s jobless rate stood at 3.2 percent, up 0.1 percentage point from a year earlier. It was the highest figure for the month since 1999.

Young people continued to bear the brunt of the harsh job market, with the unemployment rate for those aged 15-29 coming to 9.2 percent last month, compared with 8.2 percent a year earlier. This too was the worst level since 1999.
Government data also showed that a record number of Korean 20-somethings, 284,000, were outside the labor force and did nothing to look for jobs last month.

The reason we face such a dismal situation is quite simple: There are not enough jobs being created. Statistics Korea said that the number of newly employed in November remained at 253,000, well below the government target of 300,000.

All these defy the vow of the Moon administration to be a “job-creating government.” It needs a lot of soul-searching since the job market remains sluggish, although some other major economic indexes -- the growth rate and exports -- point to strength of the economy.

The Moon administration may learn lessons from the cases of countries like Japan and the US -- where the unemployment rate is going down -- thanks to policies like reduction of corporate taxes and deregulation.

They show that what’s important in improving the job market is to provide businesses with an environment favorable to expanding investment and hiring.

Much of what we see in this country is exactly the opposite. Trumpeting protection of workers and underprivileged, the Moon government has been introducing one pro-labor policy after another.

One of Moon’s first pledges as president was related to his election promise to end the plight of contingent workers. The case of Paris Baguette, a major bakery chain that had been ordered to give thousands of irregular workers a regular status, is one good example of how unilateral and irrational the policy is.

The government raised the legal monthly minimum wage for next year by the biggest-ever margin. This too is backfiring on low-paid workers like part-timers at convenience stores as they are driven out of workplaces by employers fretting about wages.

Besides, the government is moving to cut the workweek to 52 hours from the current 68 hours, arguing that it would create over 800,000 new jobs in the public sector. Again, this could backfire as a recent report argued that if the government imposes the working hour limit, businesses will have to spend more than 12 trillion won ($10.9 billion) each year in additional payments and be compelled to train more employees.

That a group of executives of small businesses visited the National Assembly on Monday to appeal lawmakers to exempt businesses hiring 30 or fewer workers from the limit attests to the sense of crisis building up in the business sector.

Then add the recent decision to increase corporate income tax. It would be strange if businesses are unfazed by the onslaught of policies that discourage them from investment and hiring.

In fact, the morale of businesses is running low. A report by Korea Economic Research Institute found that business sentiment for December, as measured by the business survey index, stood at 96.5.

It was the 19th consecutive month that the reading was below 100, meaning pessimists outnumber optimists.

The BSI is based on a survey of 600 largest companies. It is easy to imagine the sentiment in small- and medium-sized enterprises, which employ 88 percent of the nation’s workers and have to brace for a series of anti-business policies.

President Moon had a bulletin board for jobs installed in his Cheong Wa Dae office. He definitely needs one more board, which should list government policy programs that backfire on the job market.