10/28/2009, 00.00
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Church warns crisis might lead to “social unrest”

by Joseph Yun Li-sun
A symposium at the Jesuit Apostolic Center in Seoul looks at unemployment and the emerging problem of irregular work. It calls on the government to intervene to protect people. For the bishop of Incheon, “human dignity must be preserved at all costs.”
Seoul (AsiaNews) – South Korean “society has entered into a polarization state, with irregular workers at the one end of the pole.” It is urgent for the government to heed the Church’s warning and “respect the human dignity and the value of labour, and recognize it as a human condition," said Mgr Boniface Choi Ki-san, bishop of Incheon and president of the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Korean Bishops’ Conference at a symposium on “irregular employment” in South Korea.

Titled “Reflection on and practical tasks for resolving the problem of irregular employment and realizing social solidarity: the roles of society and the Church”, the meeting was held at Jesuit Apostolic Centre in Seoul.

In addition to diocesan priests and the bishop of Incheon, experts in labour law and economists were also present.

The event was organised in order to make public the results of research on irregular employment by the Commission for Justice and Peace, which sees it as one of the worse social problems of our time.

From the beginning of this year to the end of July, the Korean Contingent Workers Center carried out literature analysis, quantitative survey, and personal interview with public and private sector workers. In its final report, it added the Church’s position, papers and teachings on work as guidelines to address the issues related to the topic.

During the discussions, participants focused especially on the emerging problem of irregular employment.

Since last year’s financial crisis, South Korea has seen the ranks of its irregular workforce swell. Already significant in farming and manufacturing, the practice of hiring workers without a contract has spread to all fields. The absence of contracts means less tax revenue for the government but also no social benefits for workers.

At present, about 52 per cent of wage earners are irregular. They pay no taxes and have no social safety net.

Dr Kim Seong-hee, director of the Centre, said that after last year’s crash, the number of workers without such a safety net rose to eight million.

At the same time, rising unemployment depressed wages. Unless the government does something, employers will feel free to impose slave-like working conditions.

For women, the situation is even worse. “According to our data, 64 per cent of all employed women are irregular workers. Reform is needed and the government must make a clear commitment. What might appear as a tax revenue problem [from the government’s point of view] could lead to unprecedented social disparity in the country.”

Jesuit Fr Daniel O' Keeffe, rector of the Jesuit Apostolic Centre in Seoul, agrees. “According the teaching of the Church, a fair wage is a fundamental measure of the economic system,” he said. “Even if it is lawful, discrimination between regular and irregular workers in the same workplace cannot be morally accepted.”

“The Church’” he added, “strives to improve working conditions for all workers, including irregular workers. Society must do the same.”

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