Doors open, and a clerk greets her customers grinning, but that smile soon is lost. Rude customers make ridiculous orders, irresponsible employers, and heavy workload burdens are bringing clerk to the breaking point. This was the comic scenario aired on SNL Korea’s short skit “A Scary Story–The Tales of Cruelty towards Part–Time Workers”. The Clerk was pushed to her breaking points from unfair treatment and the need to put on a smile in front of others. Though the short skit was overly exaggerated, it is all too familiar to part-time workers. What has brought about this situation in Korean society?
The Advent of the Part-Time Job Era
Nowadays, many people seek part-time positions for reasons such as earning supplementary income or gaining work experience. Especially, university students comprise the biggest group of part-time workers. The concept of part-time work appeared from Germany right after the Second World War when the economy was confused. To revive its devastated economic situation, Germany actively endorsed the hiring of temporary workers. Today, part-time work has expanded to all industries, especially the service industry due to modern society’s desire for leisure activities. Part-time work includes temporary employment and seasonal employment and these jobs are being sought of after by all different members of society, even full-time office workers and stay-at-home mothers. According to the Ministry of Strategy and Finance and the National Statistical Office, the number of domestic part-timers in Korea exceeded 1 million in March 2014. The exact figure was 1,100,240, which represents an increase of 125,000 people (14.1% p) compared to March 2009. In particular, the number of youths aged 15 to 29 totaled more than 600,0001). In other words, survey data suggests that Korea has entered a ‘part-time job era’.
According to the part-time job portal site Albamon, an investigation of 2,245 university students found the main reason students take part-time work is to earn money so that they do not have to request an allowance from their parents (73.9%). The survey also found that 57.6% of respondents said they work part-time in order to afford items they wished to purchase. Other responses included earning money to travel abroad, to afford language training, and to pay tuition fees. Where these goals, 41.2% of university student respondents said they worked for 6 hours and 36.3% said 8 hours during school vacation periods. When asked about working times during the school year, 37.2% of respondents said they worked 4 hours and 31.0% said 6 hours2). This clearly identifies how important part-time work is to university students’ life. A large number of university students spend their time working at part-time jobs. However, why does part-time work seem to be much more to lose than gain? Why is it hard for part-timers to smile?
Servants in the 21st Century
Topping the list of grievances was salary. According to a survey by the portal site Albamon of 1,089 part-timers, the average monthly income on part-time jobs in Korea was only 670,000 won per month. When questioned about job satisfaction regarding wages 40.1% said they were unhappy and 4.5% said extremely unhappy3). Despite a federal government increase of the hourly wage to 6,470 won, complaints remained. Many respondents said that, at their workplaces, wage payment unfairness was common. Common complaint was that despite an increase to the part-time national hourly wage, at least one in ten part-timers receives less than that amount4). Moreover, there are many cases when the part-timer was not paid their due holiday allowance or paid on time. Kang Su-gyeong, student majoring in Political Science & International Relations ’17, said, “Many employers delay wage payment without reasonable cause. Furthermore, I know of one case when an employer paid the part-timer less than owed because the employer claimed the worker incorrectly calculated one of the daily sales statements.” Employers seem to be invoking double standards, those for full-timers and those for part-timers, which disregard the law.
The second largest complaint was violation of laborer rights. According to the Ministry of Employment and Labor, nine out of ten businesses violate the law. Moreover, the rate of violation increased to 91.8% in 20125). These violations infringe upon employee rights. For example, a number of eateries such as fast-food restaurants and coffee shops do not offer acceptable meals for their part-timers at meal times. Moreover, at small business establishments, sexual harassment is often reported by workers who must work closely with the business owner, especially at night time. There have also been reported cases of employers forcing their part-timers to purchase the shop’s products. In spite of such unfair treatment, part-timers remain fairly silent because they need or want to keep working at their job.
In spite of the unfairness, uncountable numbers of people still seek part-time work. Therefore, competition is fierce. But the problem is, part-timers face one additional challenge: “WE WANT EXPERIENCED PART-TIMERS.” According to Albamon, about 84.5% of employers said they prefer applicants with ample experience in the part-time job6). Today, part-time work is gradually becoming recognized as career work. Employers desire workers with past experience, but in order to get that experience, a worker needs to be hired, which is the catch twenty-two. As a result, a vicious circle of wanting experienced workers by employers and wanting to gain experience by part-timers is created.
I’M NOT A MACHINE
Why are part-time workers forced into the edge of a cliff? Firstly, there is no protection for part-timers or when there is, it is not implemented properly. According to the Policy Research Institute at the Korea Labor & Society Institute (KLSI), less than 50% of part-time contracts between employees and 579,082 businesses are in writing. Furthermore, only 30% to 40% of those business establishments discuss wage payment with part-timer7). That is, part- timers’ rights are disregarded, placing them at a disadvantage. The employer has all the power in the work relationship. Part-timers without signed work agreements have little legal standing to pursue compensation or other legal actions later, so most of them endure the unpleasant work environment. Although, there is a declaration system for work grievances, few people report problems, fearing dismissal from their job. Likewise, many Sookmyung Women’s University students couldn’t help but refuse the interview because of secondary damage on their part-time job.
Besides actual cases of unfair treatment, the bigger problem is that a large number of part-timers are oblivious to the situation. The part-time job portal site Alba Heaven surveyed 1,127 university student part-timers and found that 45.7% said they didn’t know they could get coverage from four different major insurance policies while their part-time working. In fact, 39.1% said they were unaware of the possibility of major insurance coverage and 20.9% answered that they didn’t even know about insurance coverage for part-timers. Consequently, six out of ten part-timers are not aware of their right to receive insurance coverage during their work. Because of this, when a part-timer is injured at work, they are not compensated for the pain or injury. The survey found 61% of 198 university student respondents who had been hurt while on the part-time job were not compensated for the injury. Only 15% of respondents said they received full coverage8). Many respondents did not know it was illegal for an employer to deduct medical fees from their wages. Lots of employers refuse to divulge part-time workers’ rights to their workers, for fear of extra operating costs they will incur. That is, when part-timers start to evoke their rights, employers said they lose profits and cannot operate the business successfully.
The biggest problem is employers’ domineering of part-timers. Employers often believe they have the right to use the employee as they see fit; however, this is not true. The relationship is supposed to be two-way. For example, many fast-food restaurants demand part-timers cover 400 to 500 customers per worker during peak hours. This is a huge burden, but in reality, proper employee rights are overlooked and employers take part-timers for granted. Employers want more than necessary from part-timers, and this could lead to excessive burdens placed on part-time workers. Besides the employer, customers are also mistreating part-timers and demanding outrageous tasks in the name of ‘service’. In other words, today the life of a part-timer is almost unbearable due to the challenges placed on workers from the employer and customers.
The Right to Fair Treatment: Find Desirability in Society
Given the overall situation, it does not look like businesses and society are willing to change. The government at the national level needs to get involved, especially on matters such as the domineering of part-timers. The rules and legal rights of part-timers need to be clearly identified to both workers and businesses so that both sides benefit. Indeed, raising minimum hourly wage is a step in the right direction, but it is more important to ensure timely payment and correct payment to workers. Also, the grievance reporting system needs to become anonymous to ensure part-timers do not receive any backlash from their workplaces.
The government needs to crack down on the problem and set immediately precedents so that secondary damage is kept out of the workplace, rather than letting businesses and their owners off with just a warning. To accomplish this, the nation must become aware of part-timers’ plight so that everyone works together to resolve the issues and a better working environment is realized for both the employer, in terms of profits, and the worker in terms of job fulfillment.
1) Ma Jihye, “[An Era of One Million Unemployed Youths] More Than ‘600,000 Students’ Work Part-Time”, The Korea Economic Daily, March 12, 2015
2) Lee Junho, “Every Year, More University Students are Spending Their Free Time Working at Part-Time Jobs”, Nocut News, September 8, 2017
3) Shim Dongjoon, “674,000 Won is a Part-Timers’ Average Monthly Income in Korea”, Newsis, July 12, 2017
4) Same as 4
5) Kim Jongjin, "Actual Condition of Part-Time Labor in Seoul, and Improvement Direction", Korea Labor & Society Institute (KLSI) Department of Policy Research Institute, 2013, p.1 ~ p.24
6) Kang Dongwan, “84% of Employers, ‘Prefer Experienced Part-Timers!’”, MBN, July 11, 2017
7) Same as 6
8) Cho Yongchul, “46% of University Students Do Not Know Part-timers Qualify for Insurance”, The Financial News, November 28, 2012