|President Moon Jae-in speaks during his visit to the Incheon International Airport Corp. in May 2017. Korea Times file|
By Kim Se-jeong
Incheon International Airport Corp.'s (IIAC) recent decision to change the status of 1,902 "irregular" workers to "regular" is drawing backlash from young jobseekers who claim they would be "victims" of the move.
One jobseeker expressed anger in an online petition on Cheong Wa Dae's website asking the company to stop the move. The petition drew more than 160,000 endorsements.
The petitioner wrote, "The move is devastating to those who are preparing for a chance to work for the Incheon International Airport Corporation. What wrong have we done? Have a look at Korail. It doesn't hire so many people now after it changed the status of irregular workers (to regular). This is reverse discrimination against young jobseekers."
The petitioner's claim drew more support after a Kakao message written by one of the 1,902 new "regular" workers was made public.
In the message, he talked of jumping to permanent status with a 50-million-won salary from formerly being "a part-time security worker without any direction for life."
Among the IIAC's 10,000 employees, only around 1,500 have regular status.
In May 2017, President Moon Jae-in, who pushed to create more permanent jobs as part of his election pledges, visited the corporation immediately after his inauguration, in an attempt to influence the corporation to change the status of approx. 8,500 irregular workers to regular fulltime employees.
Earlier this week, after almost three years of dialogue and struggle, the corporation announced it would change the status of 1,902 security staff to "regular" with more to follow by end of this year.
Rep. Ha Tae-kyung from the opposition United Future Party quickly raised criticism against Moon in a show of support to young jobseekers.
"President Moon's dream made many hard-working young jobseekers' dream in vain. He should apologize to them. What the jobseekers want is to have equal opportunity. The airport's decision deprived the youth of an opportunity to compete. It makes me wonder if there is any meaning to struggle and work hard in Korea," Ha wrote on Facebook.
Conversely, a labor expert in Korea said the move would be a milestone in the course of creating quality jobs for citizens and that the IIAC should go ahead with the plan instead of reversing it in the face of public criticism.
Lee Jong-sun from the Korea University Institute for Research on Labor and Employment said: "I hear angry young jobseekers. But I believe we're in the transitional period. They may feel injustice, but in the long run, this is the path Korean society should take to ensure people a decent living. We can't go back just because they're angry."
Also, he said "We shouldn't forget that the airport's move is part of a long dialogue between the company and employees and this process has to be respected."
After the president's visit in 2017, the dialogue began between the company and employees and they landed on an agreement at the end of 2017 to change irregular workers' status.
The irregular employment status was born after the IMF financial crisis in the 1997 while the public and private sectors in Korea were pushed to restructure themselves.
Two decades on, the difference has become a key social issue in Korean society where the income gap between irregular and regular workers is enormous. It is estimated half of the working population in Korea are employed in temporary positions, earning less than half their permanent colleagues.