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