|Members of a union of the Incheon International Airport Corp. hold a sign, which reads "Thoughtless transition to full-time employment will reduce the number of jobs for young jobseekers," during a news conference held near Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul, Thursday. The state-run airport operator has been drawing controversy after announcing a plan, June 21, to grant regular employment status to 1,902 contract security workers. / Yonhap|
Controversy deepens over Incheon Airport's employment plan
By Jun Ji-hye
A controversy surrounding Incheon International Airport Corp.'s (IIAC) plan to directly hire subcontracted security workers is showing no signs of subsiding, amplifying hate, division and conflict in society here.
This is the latest in a series of developments that mirror an increasingly divided Korean society haunted by deepening conflicts between the rich and poor, progressives and conservatives, male and female, and the elderly and the young
The state-run airport operator has been at the center of the controversy since June 21 when it announced it was changing the status of 1,902 contract security workers to regular workers, in accordance with President Moon Jae-in's "zero irregular jobs" initiative that he vowed during his election campaign.
Those who fiercely criticize the plan, including young jobseekers and existing full-time workers, have raised questions of fairness in the hiring process at state-run companies, while those in favor said it was necessary to improve the working conditions and treatment of irregular workers.
Despite this, the IIAC is planning to begin the relevant process to directly hire the security workers in July.
Cheong Wa Dae officials have defended the airport operator's hiring plan.
Hwang Deok-soon, senior secretary to the President for employment, stressed that the plan will not affect jobseekers, mostly university graduates, who are applying for jobs at the IIAC.
Another official from the presidential office attributed the latest controversy to "fake news and misinformation," Sunday.
"For example, some media outlets have reported rumors spread through social networking services that the contract security workers would jump to a 50-million-won ($42,000) annual salary, without fact-checking," the official told reporters.
He noted that the annual salary level of the contract security workers who will be granted regular employment status would not differ from the current level of around 33 million won.
"The essence of this issue is changing the status of non-regulars to regular workers," the official said. "The zero irregular jobs initiative is aimed at reducing socioeconomic polarization, creating more quality jobs and improving inequality."
But the explanation from the presidential office seems to have failed to resolve the issue.
A petition posted June 23 by one jobseeker on the presidential office's website calling on the IIAC to stop the move has been signed by more than 262,000 people as of 2 p.m. Monday.
The petitioner said existing regular workers had spent much time and money, and put a lot of efforts into passing difficult exams at the IIAC and getting a job there. And jobseekers are doing the same now.
"Taking away opportunities from those who are making enormous efforts is not equality," the petitioner said.
In a Realmeter survey, also unveiled Monday, 45 percent of those polled said the hiring plan should be put on hold in consideration of the potential side effects.
In particular, 56 percent of those in their 20s said they were opposed to the plan. The pollster said many objections came from those in their 20s as jobseekers are mostly in that generation.
Those who called for pushing ahead with the plan for change in the labor market for the long term accounted for 40 percent.
Kim Sung-hee, a professor at the Graduate School of Labor Studies at Korea University, said the ongoing controversy is fundamentally based on an unemployment crisis facing young people.
"Young jobseekers are protesting as they believe that inappropriate preferential treatment is being given to the contract security workers," he said. "But the fact is that the security workers have had a long career in the area and suffered discrimination in the labor market. This is an issue that should be resolved."
The professor said the government and the IIAC need to make greater efforts to clarify the relevant issues to the public, such as how the hiring plan will affect the airport operator's future employment plans, and what kind of treatment will be given to the contract security officers who will be granted regular employment status.
Korea has experienced conflicts between progressives and conservatives, between the younger and older generations, and between regular and irregular workers, whenever major social issues have emerged.
Most recently, the controversy surrounding the alleged embezzlement of citizens' donations by the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan has turned into a conflict between political camps.
The controversy over former Justice Minister and presidential aide Cho Kuk's alleged abuse of power also faced a similar phenomenon.