On Feb. 23, 2017, a forum titled "Let Us Overcome Misogyny and Remodel Women's Work and Life" was held in the National Assembly of South Korea. It was jointly held by Korean Women Workers Association and Korean Women's Trade Union, along with six members of the National Assembly (Insoon Nam, Chairman at Gender Equality and Family Committee / Mihyuk Kwon and Okjoo Song, Democratic Party of Korea / Samhwa Kim and Yonghyeon Shin, People's Party / Jeongmi Lee, Justice Party). Through the five articles on OhmyNews, an online news website in South Korea, we Korean Women Workers Association will report on this forum. In this article, we will summarize our suggestions for the 19th presidential election agendas, as a wrap­up of this series.


'Is this a government?'; with this chant last winter in 2016, the people in South Korean society were not only asking to reform their government filled with injustice and corruption, but also crying in despair of difficulties of their lives. It's now or never. Before our lives get further broken, we desperately need policy making and enforcement based on a philosophy which cares about lives of each member of the people. Our new government's major task should be to make society where everyone's labor could be respected regardless of her/his gender. In this sense, we suggest the main philosophies of labor policy for our new government.


Korean Women Workers Association's suggestion for the 19th presidential election agendas



Labor policy for gender equality, Not for the utilization of women resources

In the 1970s, South Korean women workers suffered from low wages and terrible long working hours, under the name of 'a pillar of industry' to lay foundation for the nation's economic growth. Now, they are suffering from poor working conditions of part­time jobs, which were rashly made by the government to raise employment rate. South Korean women workers have never been the real subject in the government policy. South Korea's policy of women labor has never aimed for society where every single person can happily work regardless of her/his gender. All it has cared about is making policy to utilize women resources, as a means to enhance national competitiveness.


The problem is a philosophy. The false goal of policy makes impossible to aim for the happiness of each member of the people, which is the ideal goal of policy. New government's women's labor policy should be different from the previous 'utilization policy for women resources.' It should be clearly enacted as the 'labor policy for gender equality', as to realize gender equality at work. It must depart from outdated patriarchal ideology, which disparages women's paid labor as the 'sildeline' and justifies women workers' low wages based on beliefs in gendered division of labor. Also, the scale of policy should be expanded to abolish gender discrimination at the more structural and integrated level, not at the fragmented level only targeting women. This is because gender equality is an issue for everyone, and it takes everyone's efforts for its realization.


Starting point is the everyday lives of the most marginalized, non­regular women workers


Women workers are, in general, placed in the vulnerable position in the labor market. The problem gets even worse with discrimination against the non­regular workers. 53.8% of South Korean women workers work as non­regular workers, and their average monthly income is 1,230,000 won (approximately 1,100 US dollars), which is below the minimum wage and comprises merely 35.8% of regular men workers' average monthly income (as of August, 2016). Also, women make up 62.7% of 2,660,000 workers paid below the minimum wage.



Would it have been possible for these non­regular women workers to join the demonstrations against former president Park's government last winter? For those who are deprived of basic human rights, would it be possible to think of other than their own survival? Like walking on the edge, too precarious are their everyday lives. In 2014, one old mother and two daughters in Seoul took their own lives at the moment when their basic rights of survival could not be guaranteed any more as non­regular women workers. Policy making should start from concern for the most marginalized. The most critical task for the government is to guarantee rights of survival, and furthermore, rights of living a decent life.


We need solutions to employment disruption, not to career disruption


'Career disruption' means the situation in which married women's careers are interrupted due to their voluntary or involuntary exit from the labor market regarding their responsibility of childbirth or child­rearing. Behind its definition is hidden its complex background. Their low income even lower than their cost of childcare as well as their secondary position at work, which they would give up at any time without much regret. In South Korea, there are not many jobs for women that are decent enough to keep with their responsibility of housework and child­rearing, which is mainly attributed to the gender discrimination in the labor market.


Women workers' experience at work is hardly recognized as a career. Unlike aged men workers who are more likely recognized as professionally mature, aged women workers are often seen as those who are obsolete and no longer playing the 'eye candy' role at work. As women workers get older and experienced at work, they are supposed to be promoted to the managerial positions. However, once they experience such strong glass ceiling, they are kicked out of their career. These risks are faced by many women workers in their late 30s or early 40s, regardless of their career disruption related to childbirth and child­rearing. In this sense, it would be more correct to call these risks 'employment disruption' rather than 'career interruption.'


The previous solutions to career disruption are merely centered on reemployment, through such channels as part­time jobs, job training, or job placement. To this problem of 'employment disruption', we need more fundamental solutions.


Labor policy for individual independent workers, not for male breadwinners


In South Korea, family structures become more diverse than ever before, and the number of single households has dramatically increased. Far from this reality, most policies in South Korea are designed for the traditional family structure, which is composed of parents and two unmarried children. Policies are still based on the outdated 'male­breadwinner model', in which men are supporting their family's living while women are doing housework and child­rearing as homemakers. This model can be used to justify gender discrimination in the labor market. The model which would not recognize women workers as breadwinners, has helped to justify their low wages and exclusion from various types of benefits and pensions. These days in South Korea, it is not always possible for only men to support their family's living. Although women are always working, through paid or unpaid labor, given the male­breadwinner model, they have been just seen as the secondary workers.


It is just an outdated dream that all the adult women and men get married and have children. We should recognize that a variety of life choices and ways of life are also possible. This recognition would be possible only based on the policy model in which every single member of the people is seen as an independent individual. This model should be the foundation of the overall government policy, which includes not only labor, but also housing and welfare policy.


Life should be centered on individual living, not on paid work


In South Korea, most people's lives center around paid work. Get-togethers as well as overtime work at night or over the weekend, which all are common in Korean companies, make South Korea ranked third for working hours among the OECD countries. Long working hours take up time for each individual's living. Unless given enough time to take a rest, cook and eat healthy food, look after our family members, and care social and political issues around ourselves, we will be easily exhausted physically, mentally, and socially.


Behind South Korea's long working hours, there exists its outdated working culture, which makes it possible that companies employ only two for the job for three, or that workers are expected to join their get­together until dawn. All of this is based on Korean companies' disrespect for their employees' individual living and delusion that with an employment contract they bought employee's 24 hours. Sometimes, such long working hours are made possible by the workers themselves, as to compensate for their low wages. However, 'if we work too hard, we will only run ourselves to death.' Before too late, workers need to get back their own individual living. Paid work, the means of our life should be no longer confounded with its end. Life should center around each individual's living, not around paid work or companies. South Korea's new government needs to design its labor policy as to return to workers their individual life. We need a fundamental change in our working conditions as to make society where workers can live a decent life without overwork and can be no longer forced to work overtime.


Men are also responsible for housework and childcare


The biggest problem of South Korean work­family balance policy is that it is only targeted at women and concerned about supporting their childcare. And this leads South Korean government to promote women's part­time work, given its idea that women's paid work can be supported only when it does not hinder their childcare.


The problem is men do not see themselves as caretakers for housework and childcare. On the contrary, with their unequal burden of housework and childcare, woman are expected to be a superwoman; when they come home from work, they start their second shift. All of this makes a great gap in hours for housework and childcare between genders. Companies favor men employees as those who would work overtime at night or over the weekend, which justifies their gender discrimination. However, it should be recognized at the social as well as individual level that men are also responsible for housework and childcare.


We need to change our ways of thinking. We need to relieve women's unequal burden of housework and childcare, which would not be made possible only through policy change. Based on the model of double­caregivers, we need to design policy and change family and working culture, as a way to make sure that it is all family members who are responsible for their housework and childcare.



Posted by KWWA

For the Society of Equal Work and Equal Care - A Discussion of Labor Policy and Care Work

※ On Feb. 23, 2017, a forum titled "Let Us Overcome Misogyny and Remodel Women's Work and Life" was held in the National Assembly of South Korea. It was jointly held by Korean Women Workers Association and Korean Women's Trade Union, along with six members of the National Assembly (Insoon Nam, Chairman at Gender Equality and Family Committee / Mihyuk Kwon and Okjoo Song, Democratic Party of Korea / Samhwa Kim and Yonghyeon Shin, People's Party / Jeongmi Lee, Justice Party). Through the five articles on OhmyNews, an online news website in South Korea, we Korean Women Workers Association will report on this forum. In this article, we will cover the presentation by Professor Ja-young Yun (Department of Economics at Chungnam National Univ.), titled "A Discussion of Labor Policy and Care Work."

'Employment rate 70 %' was an agenda for all economic and social policies as one of the major projects in former President Park's government. The agenda's main target group was the women. The assumption of the labor policy that all adult women and men in a family should participate in the labor market trivialized families' demand for care and labor reality under the name of 'socialization' and 'support for 'work-family balance', and thereby made care work invisible and marginalized.

Professor Ja-young Yun started her presentation emphasizing that it was needed to point out the limitations of 'adult worker model' which today's labor policy assumed and to set out the directions and strategies for both genders' equal participation in paid labor and care work. 

▲ Professor Ja-young Yun (Department of Economics at Chungnam National Univ.) in her presentation ⒸKorean Women Workers Association

Adult Worker Model

In many welfare states in Europe, the way both genders contribute to family economy is based on 'adult worker model' in which all adults in a family are expected to participate in full­time paid labor, instead of 'male breadwinner model' where men earn family's main income while women take care of family members. This is based on a belief that participation in labor market will realize equal employment and citizenship for both genders. However, today it is widely considered that the 'adult worker model' has failed. In many European countries, as a result of the model, women became to participate in labor market as part­timers while men worked full­time. 

Then, why did the 'adult worker model' fail? The answer can be found in a way the model handled with care for family members, which had been traditionally done by women. The model considered the best to incorporate care work into the public realm through its commercialization. However, it is impossible to 'completely' commercialize 'care' because of the difficulty to perfectly outsource private and emotional work attached to it. Along with the commercialization of care work, it is needed to think about the ways care work can be shared by women and men, and individuals and society. Under the assumption that individual's 'independence' and 'choice' is valuable, the 'adult worker model' encouraged participation in labor market as an expression of such 'choice'. The problem is whether the rights of choice can be truly guaranteed. Both genders' equal participation in care work is not possible until individuals can be given 'true' freedom to choose care work. Also, given that citizens' participation in paid labor was emphasized as their responsibility for the nation in welfare reform based on the 'adult worker model', it is needed to emphasize not only responsibilities but also rights of care work, including rights to participate in and receive care. 

The adult worker model's labor policy considers the labor market as the realm of 'appropriate' activities. For labor policy based on the welfare to work program, which encourages escapes from poverty through labor, any kinds of paid work, no matter how poorly it is paid, can be regarded as an appropriate activity. In this context, care work is merely seen as an obstacle to women's paid labor, not as the critical resources and processes for human beings' development and social reproduction. While independence is emphasized as the principle of life, care is dubbed the negative meaning of dependence rather than universal values to construct human life and ethics to build alternative society.

▲ Participants at the forum for the presidential election agendas ⒸKorean Women Workers Association

The Invisible, Devalued, and Stratified Care Work 

Increasing part­time jobs, encouraging the use of paid leave, and commercializing social service have been carried out as the ways to support work­family balance. However, paradoxically, it made invisible not only care work in the market, companies, and the other public areas, but also many workers' double responsibility of paid labor and care work. Although the labor market does not prevent women's participation in paid work on the surface, workers are asked to individually solve the problems with responsibilities and rights of care. This can be seen as a dilemma as the policy for work­family balance has helped to  marginalize and undervalue care work in a family, and to reproduce the devalued status of family care and care work in the market.

Part­time jobs, which many women were encouraged to participate in under the former President Park's government, presupposes women's role as a primary care giver for their family members. Through the ideology of work­family balance, not for the women to gain equal socioeconomic status as the men, it reinforces the model of male breadwinner­female secondary income earner. In addition, given that it is needed to ask companies to internalize workers' costs of family care, women's part­time jobs externalize such costs, and thereby do not so much help to support work­family balance not only for the women, but also for the men workers. 

   The parental leave system also helps to make invisible workers' care work and related responsibilities in the workplace. Not all the workers are guaranteed the rights to return to work after their parental leave, and some temporary women workers are excluded from using parental leave. Child care facilities are used to excuse companies from responsibilities for work­family balance, such as to guarantee the employees that they can reduce their working hours, leave work at the regular time, or use working hours more flexibly, if needed. The parental leave system does not contribute to fundamentally changing the working culture and system for the companies to share their responsibilities of care.

   It is regular women workers in the large companies who mainly benefit from the increased availability of the parental leave. Whether the parental leave can be actually used or not largely depends on the labor relations and environment of the company, beyond an individual worker's choice. This is why we cannot dismiss the criticisms that the parental leave system will only benefit relatively more affluent families unless removing the obstacles to using the parental leave at the company level. The low income replacement rate of the leave is criticized as only increasing disadvantages from the use of the parental leave for the low­income families.

For the System of Labor­Care

   To establish the system of labor­care in which both genders equally share paid labor and care work, we need strategies for the 'universal care giver model' as suggested by Nancy Fraser. She insists that care work should be considered to have equal value and status to men's 'paid productive labor'. According to the 'universal care giver model', care work that has been regarded as 'women's work' should be included as the essential requirements for citizenship, thereby should be redistributed as the basic civil activity regardless of one's gender. 

   For the 'universal care giver model' to be successfully established in South Korean society, Professor Yun insists it is stable equity in carrying out care work which should be first guaranteed, especially between genders and classes. It is needed to systematically reinforce the sharing structure of child care, between support for the workers' child care and child care service at the facilities as the former's alternative. Also, it is needed to improve the working conditions at the child care facilities as well as parents' rights to choose and access the child care service. According to Professor Yun, it is also needed for the state to financially support the citizen's family care regardless of his/her participation in paid labor, and to adopt the basic income which guarantees universal income regardless of one's employment likelihood and status.

   Secondly, Professor Yun emphasizes the importance of strategies for the redistribution of time and equal participation in labor market through working hour reduction. It is working hour reduction, she insists, which could serve as a long­term, fundamental strategy for both genders to equally participate in paid labor and care work. In a system which forces working long hours, women's participation in labor market leads to nothing but intensifying women workers' time poverty and pressure. To reduce working hours, she points out, it is needed to change the structure of income incentives which supports  the present system of long working hours. For instance, the rate of overtime pay needs to be increased up to higher than 50%, so that both employer's and employee's incentives for overtime work could be blocked. 


  Thirdly, Professor Yun emphasizes the importance of flexible working hours. It is needed to make working hours more flexible, according to the reality of workers with the responsibility of family care. It is working hour reduction which should be emphasized first in a system of working hours reflecting the family responsibility and labor reality. Five­day six­hour work, rearrangement of working hours, and restrictions on night or holiday work could be an example. To reduce the standard working hours for every worker could be an effective way to support  family care work.

   Lastly, in order to supplement working family's decreased income due to working hour reduction and the paid leave, she suggests policies for less dependence on family for welfare so that individual family's spending could be decreased. This is because, she argues, in a society where the costs for education, housing, and health care are largely dependent on individuals, workers have few options but to voluntarily overwork. 

   At the end of her presentation, Professor Yun points out the meaning of 'economic democratization', which is derived from the second statement of the 119th article in the constitution of Republic of Korea. According to her, 'economic democratization' is based on the capability of nation state which helps the balanced growth and stability of the nation's economy, sustains the redistribution of income at the appropriate level, prevents market's dominance and abuse of economic power, and regulates the balance between economic agents. Given that care work carried out in family is part of the 'economy', it is the spirit of the constitution to support the balanced growth and stability in the economy of both the market and unpaid care work, to help the redistribution of income at the appropriate level, to prevent the market's dominance and abuse of power upon the family and care, and to guarantee the harmony and equal participation for the agents of paid labor and care work.

Posted by KWWA

"Justice of Redistribution and Recognition" to Close the Gender Gap

- Women's Labor Policies Which We Can Practice Right Now

※ On Feb. 23, 2017, a forum titled "Let Us Overcome Misogyny and Remodel Women's Work and Life" was held in the National Assembly of South Korea. It was jointly held by Korean Women Workers Association and Korean Women's Trade Union, along with six members of the National Assembly (Insoon Nam, Chairman at Gender Equality and Family Committee / Mihyuk Kwon and Okjoo Song, Democratic Party of Korea / Samhwa Kim and Yonghyeon Shin, People's Party / Jeongmi Lee, Justice Party). Through the five articles on OhmyNews, an online news website in South Korea, we Korean Women Workers Association will report on this forum. In this article, we will cover the presentation by Jiyeun Chang (Research Fellow at Korea Labor Institute) titled "The Direction and Issues of Women's Labor Policy: From the Perspective of Equalitarianism." 

   In South Korea, on the news of South Korea's worst gender wage gap among the OECD countries, many reply on the internet, "it is no wonder as women's job is much easier to do than men's job." Disrespect and harassment of the women is rampant, and successful women often become the target of jealousy and hatred. Although South Korean government claims to tackle low birthrate problem with work­life balance policy, it turns a blind eye to South Korean men's patriarchal way of lives which they rigidly keep and just suggests the policies promising to give material incentives to the women. 

   To account for all these problems, Dr. Jiyeun Chang suggests 'gender equality' as a keyword, and starts her presentation with a diagnosis that South Korean society cannot be called as an egalitarian society. South Korean women's monthly average wage reaches only 62% of South Korean men's. For this huge gap, some explain that it is 'rational market's choice' which rationally assesses men's and women's work and rewards them based on the assessment. However, such explanation is groundless unless proving that women in South Korea are especially inferior to men compared to those in the other OECD nations. It is also problematic that regardless of their capability South Korean women are given fewer job opportunities than men, and once luckily employed, they are often unfairly rewarded for their work. In South Korea, working women are always suffering from lack of time and given unfavorable reviews for their performance no matter how hard they work at the company. This is because many women are burdened with the duties of caring their family members, and such burdens are hardly decreased even when they are working for wages.

▲Dr. Jiyeun Chang during her presentation

   As the main factor for South Korea's huge gender wage gap, Dr. Jiyeun Chang points out the problem of 'gender discrimination' at the labor market and 'women's burden of care work'. Therefore, she suggests, for the policies for gender equality, we need to first discuss 'what kinds of' equality our policies should be based on. We need theory, not only to persuade the public fighting with social prejudice and discrimination, but also to carry out policies as a means for social change. 

A philosophy to Close the Gender Gap: Justice of Redistribution and Recognition

   According to Dr. Jiyeun Chang, it is strategically useful to make the women treated equally with the men through 'prohibition on gender discrimination', but it has limitations as it cannot change the structural factors such as difference in environment and initial resources each individual is given. Even when we recognize these limitations and make both men and women start at the same line by narrowing down the gender gap especially in their education level, Dr. Chang points out, we cannot solve all the problems women are now facing. To relieve gender inequality, for some occasions women could be treated equally with men while for the other occasions they could be differently based on their uniqueness. As a theoretical framework to realize this ideal, Dr. Chang suggests 'redistribution' and 'recognition', the two dimensions of justice. This is because, she insists, 'gender' is the prototype of a problem which Nancy Fraser called 'the dilemmas of redistribution­recognition.'

   In order to relieve injustice of redistribution, we need to call for the abolition of the economic system which helps keep certain group's vested interests, based on the emphasis on the 'sameness.' To relieve injustice of recognition, we need to call for the different treatment of the women based on the affirmation of gender uniqueness. In this context, recognition should be treated as a problem of 'status', not that of 'identity.' This is because what needs to be recognized is not the identity of certain group, but the status of each group member (as an equal partner in social interaction). Within this theoretical framework, Dr. Chang suggests, it is possible to call for both the equal redistribution of resources and the gender­specific rights, without claiming that women's identity should be given special values. 

   When taking advantage of these two dimensions of justice, 'redistribution' and 'recognition' as a theoretical framework, we can more easily solve the problems in the practice of social policies. First, with this framework, it becomes possible to criticize the situations in which social policies such as tax system or social insurance programs make difficult for the women to escape from their subordinate position in a family or to equally participate in social activities by regarding 'family' as the 'unit' of the policy. As it is generally egalitarians' ideal to make equal as much as possible each social member's economic resources or well-being of life, it is problematic that social policies for this ideal give a penalty to the high­income women's earnings or lead many women to participate in part time labor.

   In addition, Dr. Chang says, a theoretical framework which emphasizes the recognition of gender status can be used as a right guide to help both genders equally participate in the work life balance policies. For instance, when child­care leave is seen from the perspective which emphasizes the recognition of women's identity, it can lead to calling for a guarantee of women's child­care leave as much as possible. However, from the perspective that 'recognition' is needed for both genders to treat each other as an equal partner, rather than asking child­care leave as gender specific rights, it is seen better to design policies to facilitate men's participation in child care. 

▲Specialists and activists from a variety of fields are participating in the forum as discussants.

Women's Labor Policies Which We Can Practice Right Now

   With this justice of 'redistribution' and 'recognition' as a philosophical basis, Dr. Jiyeun Chang suggests five policies for women's employment which can be carried out right now. First, she suggests a system for workers' right to claim the temporary reduction of their working hours. Instead of part time labor with low income and unstable employment, she suggests a system in which workers can choose their work type between full­time and part­time when needed. She sees this system will help to better workers' work life balance and to increase women's employment at the same time.

   Second, she suggests to expand the role of the counseling office for equal employment so that the office can carry out diverse activities including prevention of employment discrimination, beyond just supporting the employment discrimination cases though counseling. She also suggests to appoint the labor monitoring officials for equal employment so that they can work with their professional and continuous administrative power for equal employment. Third, for more effective Affirmative Action, she suggests a wage disclosure system. By relating this system to public enterprises' management assessment and private companies' public supply, we can lead companies to actively participate in the wage disclosure system. 

   Fourth, Dr. Chang suggests to expand the beneficiaries of the childbirth leave to all. For this, it is needed to have the finances for the childbirth leave wages from public health insurance, so that all women who gave a child birth could be the beneficiaries of the childbirth leave. Last, she suggests to expand partner's childbirth leave and to increase men's use of child care leave in order to relieve the division of gender roles. More specifically, we can gradually increase the length of partner's childbirth leave from two to four weeks, and relate partner's wages during childcare leave to the length of leave. For instance, we can increase income replacement rate for a short period of leave while decreasing it for a longer period. In addition, as the other policies to practically support equal employment, she suggests increase of minimum wage and living wages, decrease of non­regular workers, reduction of working hours, and reinforcement of employment safety net.

   Based on discussions in this forum and many women workers' lives and wishes, we Korean Women Workers Association made a list of the women's labor agendas for the upcoming 19th presidential election. We suggest six directions and 20 agendas to change women's labor policy which has been nothing but the policy to utilize women's labor, into the one for gender equality.

   After this presidential election, South Korean society should be a different one. In our new society, respect for workers and gender equality must be upheld as the norm at work.

Posted by KWWA

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