Drawing upon the 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for South Korea (https://www.state.gov/reports/2022-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/south-korea/) and additional professional papers, this editorial examines significant labor-related concerns in the country. While South Korea has made notable progress, there are areas that require further improvement. We will analyze these crucial issues, assess the current situation, and suggest recommendations to facilitate positive change.
Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
South Korean legislation effectively prohibits severe forms of child labor. However, the law allows exceptions for children under 15 who possess authorization certificates from the Ministry of Employment and Labor. To better protect young workers, South Korea should thoroughly review and, if necessary, amend these exceptions, ensuring that child employment is restricted to safe and appropriate environments. Moreover, the government should explore policies that emphasize education and social support for children and their families, as noted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in their 2014 report, “Tackling Child Labour: From Commitment to Action.”
Persistent workplace discrimination in South Korea calls for increased attention, particularly the alarming 31.5% gender pay gap reported in 2020. A study published in the Journal of Contemporary Asia (2017) titled “Institutionalizing Gender Equality in South Korea: The National Gender Equality Index and Beyond” highlights the need for comprehensive policy measures to address gender disparities. The government must rigorously enforce equal pay for equal work and promote policies that cultivate a diverse and inclusive workforce. This includes addressing obstacles faced by women reentering the workforce after childbirth, ensuring fair treatment for migrant workers, and providing support to workers with disabilities.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Sexual harassment in the workplace remains a pervasive issue in South Korea, as noted in the 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. To address this problem, the government should implement comprehensive anti-harassment policies, establish effective reporting mechanisms, and promote awareness campaigns that aim to change cultural attitudes towards harassment. A 2019 paper published in the Asian Journal of Women’s Studies titled “Sexual Harassment in the South Korean Workplace: Exploring the Experiences of Highly Educated Women Employees” suggests that an intersectional approach is needed to combat the problem effectively.
Occupational Safety and Health (OSH)
The high rate of industrial accidents and occupational fatalities in South Korea, especially among foreign workers, is deeply concerning. To enhance OSH standards, the government should intensify enforcement efforts, provide comprehensive training for employers and employees, and allocate additional resources to inspect workplaces with high concentrations of migrant workers. A 2016 article published in the International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics titled “Current Status and Future Directions of Occupational Health and Safety Policies in Korea” recommends the establishment of an integrated safety management system and the adoption of a risk-based approach to improve workplace safety.
Migrant Workers’ Rights
Migrant workers in South Korea face numerous challenges, including limited employment mobility and exploitation in the form of longer working hours, fewer days off, and lower wages. To better safeguard migrant workers, the government should consider revising the employment permit system to allow for increased employment flexibility and ensure that all industries—including agriculture, livestock, and fisheries—comply with the same labor regulations. A 2018 article published in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies titled “Precarious Migrant Workers’ Rights in South Korea: Legal Consciousness and the Politics of Pragmatism” emphasizes the importance of empowering migrant workers through legal consciousness and mobilization.
The issue of workplace bullying in South Korea, as highlighted in the 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, warrants serious attention. A toxic work culture can lead to increased stress, decreased job satisfaction, and negative mental health consequences for employees. South Korea should implement robust policies to tackle workplace bullying, create safe reporting mechanisms, and encourage employers to establish a positive work environment. A study published in the Journal of Business Ethics (2017) titled “Workplace Bullying in South Korea: An Empirical Study of Its Effects on Employees’ Well-being and Organizational Outcomes” underscores the need for a comprehensive approach to address this issue.
Labor Union Rights
Although South Korea has made strides in recognizing and promoting labor union rights, the country still faces challenges in ensuring fair representation and protection for all workers. The government should revise legislation to guarantee freedom of association for public servants and teachers, as well as ensure that labor union leaders are not unfairly targeted or penalized. A 2021 article in the Global Labour Journal titled “Changing Labor Politics in South Korea: The Decline of the Militant Labor Movement and the Emergence of Alternative Unionism” suggests that promoting alternative unionism and fostering cooperation between labor unions and civil society organizations can contribute to more inclusive and democratic labor representation.
Informal and Gig Economy Workers
The rise of the gig economy and informal labor sector presents new challenges for labor rights protection in South Korea. As these workers often lack the same legal protections as their formal counterparts, they are more vulnerable to exploitation, unstable working conditions, and limited access to social security benefits. The government should extend labor rights protection and social security benefits to workers in the gig economy and informal sector, ensuring their equitable treatment. A 2020 article published in the Journal of Industrial Relations titled “Precarious Work in the Platform Economy: The Case of South Korea” highlights the need for regulatory frameworks and policies that address the unique challenges faced by these workers.
The 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and additional professional papers shed light on the pressing labor rights issues that South Korea faces today. To address these concerns and promote a just and equitable work environment, the government should implement comprehensive policy measures, enhance labor rights protection, and support initiatives that foster a positive and inclusive work culture. By doing so, South Korea can build upon its progress and set an example for other countries in the pursuit of improved labor rights and social justice.