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[News Focus] Almost half of salaried women lack regular status

Female nonregular workers hit all-time high in 2021

Nov. 4, 2021 - 17:01 By Kim Yon-se
A job fair for women is held at Yangcheon-gu Office in Seoul on Oct. 8. (Yonhap)
SEJONG -- Recent employment data has raised the possibility that nonregular employees could make up the majority of salaried female workers in South Korea as soon as 2022, should current trends continue.

According to Statistics Korea, nonregular employees -- such as temporary workers and part-timers -- accounted for 4.49 million of South Korea’s 9.47 million salaried women in August. The state-run agency publicizes the yearly data each August.

The data shows job security for women has quite deteriorated over the past five years.
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)
Though the proportion stood at 41.2 percent in 2017 and 41.5 percent in 2018, it made a big jump to 45 percent in 2019. The figure further climbed by 2.4 percentage points to reach record-high of 47.4 percent this year.

The portion of female nonregular workers ranged between 39.9 percent and 41.1 percent during the previous Park Geun-hye administration (February 2013-March 2017).

When it comes to the comparison by core working age group -- women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s, the growth in the percentage of nonregular jobs was the fastest among those in their 20s, Statistics Korea data showed.

The share of nonregular workers of the total salaried women in their 20s shot up more than 10 percentage points in just five years, from 32.4 percent in 2016 to 42.5 percent -- 811,000 out of 1.9 million -- in 2021.

This indicates that female college or high school graduates have faced tighter barriers to securing regular jobs as economic growth has slowed since the mid-2010s. The coronavirus pandemic has worsened the job market.

The next group was women in their 40s: The portion of those in nonregular job status increased by 4.5 percentage points over the corresponding 2016-2021 period to post 41 percent.

Meanwhile, the equivalent overall figure for male employees was 31 percent this year -- 3.75 million of the nation’s 11.51 million salaried men were in irregular positions.

That figure is also a noteworthy increase compared to 26.3 percent in 2016, though this is possibly affected by the COVID-19 situation. Nonetheless, the 2021 figure was lower than the all-time high of 32.5 percent in 2007.

Some government officials had argued that the sharp growth in the percentage of nonregular jobs, for both men and women, was attributed to re-classification of some regular workers, totaling about 350,000-500,000, as nonregular workers in 2019.

They claimed that the government has applied “a fresh standard,” set by the Switzerland-based International Labor Organization.

But this would only account for about half of that year’s increase in nonregular employees, which was 860,000.

The incumbent government “has aggressively increased the number of nonregular workers among those in their 60s or 70s at state-funded agencies, who are working as cleaning employees,” said one labor researcher in Seoul.

According to Statistics Korea, the portion of nonregular workers among salaried women aged 60 or over, sharply climbed from 74.4 percent in 2016 to 82 percent in 2021. Figures for male nonregular workers for the same age group rose 5.9 percentage points to 73.7 percent over the corresponding period.

Since 2017, the administration had continued to pledge active job creation for young jobseekers.

“But the current figures suggest an increase in part-time work among women in their 20s and job creation for seniors and retirees by pouring in huge amounts of taxpayer money,” said the researcher.