For a stronger safety net

As economic conditions worsen and an increasing number of workers, especially irregularly employed workers, lose their jobs, it is becoming urgent that the government strengthen the social safety net.

The number of people who receive livelihood protection assistance — the last resort for people in destitution — is increasing each year. As of September 2008, 1.58 million received the assistance. The number of households receiving the assistance is now nearing 1.2 million. This reflects an increase both in the number of low-income elderly people and in the number of workers who have lost jobs due to the nation’s economic downturn.

In the past, the lifetime employment system protected workers. They could expect to receive not only lifetime employment but also steady salary increases, necessary job training and retirement allowances. But with the economic changes over the years, major companies have departed from this system.

Dismissed workers are supposed to receive unemployment insurance benefits, job referrals at public employment security offices, and vocational training if needed. In this economic crisis, though, it has become apparent that many irregularly employed workers are not covered by unemployment insurance. The Unemployment Insurance Law needs to be revised so that even workers who lose their jobs after working a short time can receive benefits according to the number of days or months for which they worked and paid unemployment insurance premiums.

According to the labor and welfare ministry, 89 percent of those who applied for livelihood protection assistance in fiscal 2006 were deemed eligible. But of those who came to municipal governments to seek assistance, only 44 percent were allowed to file applications. The government must uphold people’s right to receive livelihood protection assistance and make it easy for people to use it.

Corporate management, for its part, should implement a policy of treating both regularly and irregularly employed workers equally in terms of wages paid for the same job, fringe benefits and job training.