SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA, December 28, 2020 — The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced that it will set up an exclusive division dedicated to supporting essential workers who help maintain a functioning society. Such a scheme is to ensure the lives and safety of Seoul citizens amid a pandemic. The newly created section, the first of its kind in the nation as a local government, will provide tailored assistance, focusing on improving substandard working conditions of essential workers while protecting their health as well as preventing industrial accidents.
The city plans to provide customized support to ensure the rights of an ever-expanding number of platform workers in various fields amid a thriving non-face-to-face, or “untact,” industry. It will set up temporary rest areas for delivery riders and workers to provide places where they can take a brief break during working hours. Those areas are to be located throughout the city’s autonomous districts by 2023.
It also plans to operate specialized relief programs for the 2.9 million workers in fields that demand emotional labor, providing counseling as well as relief on legal rights issues.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government also plans to open up its counseling channels to not just workers in the public sector but also to those in the private sector to root out workplace harassment and provide close-knit support by dispatching specialists on anti-harassment and conflict resolution.
Seoul unveils a five-year plan on labor policy, outlining assistance for platform and essential workers, and install industrial safety measures.
As we face an era of the “new normal with COVID-19,” the Seoul Metropolitan Government on December 22 announced its second Five-year Labor Plan (2020-2024), which includes its policies on new laborers that reflect recent changes in the market, including platform and essential workers, to ensure workplace safety, installing protection measures, as well as preventing industrial accidents and protecting workers in the field of emotional labor. The core of its plan lies in an organic collaboration among infrastructures to enhance feasibility, protect new workers’ rights, and ensure their right to healthy working conditions.
The second five-year plan consists of: ① Shoring up a safety net for atypical workers; ② Ensuring the basic rights of workers left in a “legal blind spot”; ③ Providing a safe and healthy workplace environment, and ④ Continuing its push to create pioneering labor policies.
① Shoring up a safety net for atypical workers
Firstly, the city will reinforce its social safety net to protect an ever-increasing number of atypical workers such as freelancers as well as platform and economically dependent workers. To start off, in order to devise a feasible support plan, it will initiate a “platform worker task force” at two workers’ support centers next year, examine the current status of platform workers, identify tasks and investigate their grievances to formulate supportive goals.
The city plans to offer support measures that reflect workers’ feedback to suit the special needs of platform workers, whose work operations differ greatly from general workers, offering expert support on consultations, damage reparations, forming workers’ groups, and education. It also plans to set up temporary rest areas for delivery riders and workers, providing spots where they can take a brief break from cold and heat, to be located throughout all of its autonomous districts by 2023.
The city will also provide step-by-step support for economically dependent workers, whose status is often overlooked, to form unions that can act as a trusty backup. It will offer workable space for newly formed unions, provide consulting and education as well as funding for weaker organizations until they can stand on their own.
The plan also details stringent protective measures for essential workers who are exposed to substandard working environments and job instability. As part of its plans to create systematic support measures, the city plans to set up a specialized division within its labor policy office in December and enact a city ordinance regarding support for essential workers.
Other measures include cooperating with autonomous districts to boost disinfection at workplaces and break rooms to ensure a healthy working environment and also to provide protective gear such as masks and hand sanitizers. Moreover, it will offer paid sick leaves as well as consultations at counseling centers to alleviate some of the workers’ mental and physical duress while offering 24-hour childcare services for workers who often work night shifts or those on three-part shifts.
② Ensuring the basic rights of workers left in a “legal blind spot”
Secondly, it will focus on ensuring the basic rights of workers who are often relegated to “legal blind spots.” Measures to aid apartment security guards and workers at delivery companies are prime examples. The city is currently operating relief counseling for legal rights for apartment security guards. The call center offers legal advice on labor law, back wages, wrongful dismissals, and disciplinary actions, as well as distress counseling and therapy.
The city is also preparing assistance for workers at delivery companies, who face long and strenuous working hours that are detrimental to their health. Steps include expanding “silver deliveries” within apartment complexes that make use of a senior workforce and increasing unmanned delivery drop-off points starting next year.
The city plans to make up for the full 7.8 percent insurance deduction from the wages of construction workers, who are prone to working for lower wages at dangerous construction sites, and also provide a full day’s pay for those working five days or more per week, to tighten its social safety net. It also plans to double the number of its inspection teams, made up of engineering, architectural and safety code specialists, to concentrate safety inspections at hazardous sites.
③ Providing a safe and healthy workplace environment
Thirdly, the city will establish an institution in charge of workers’ health and safety and provide guidelines to secure the effectiveness of measures against workplace harassment, the right to suspend work, and protection of emotion-intensive laborers as mandated by law, and ensure channels to file complaints.
The city will start off by opening its Seoul Labor Health and Safety Center by 2022 to create a safe working environment and to provide assistance in protecting workers’ rights to safeguard their health. It will offer swift and systematic assistance by drawing up labor health and safety guidelines and by integrating consultations on industrial safety such as anti-harassment and work suspension damages along with damage reparations.
The city hopes that the Seoul Labor Health and Safety Center, along with the existing Seoul Labor Center and the Seoul Emotional Labor Center, will round off a trifecta for a specialized system to protect workers’ rights, ensure emotional stability and physical safety.
Furthermore, the city will select 30 businesses as “Seoul’s Top Labor Health and Safety Companies” each year to encourage private firms to willingly take part in improving their working environment, awarding as much as 10 million won ($9000) in funding as well as PR and labor consulting.
The city also outlined steps to eradicate workplace harassment. Although a law has been in effect for the past year, there are still limitations because of differences of interpretation by the perpetrator and the victim of what constitutes harassment and reluctance to come forth on concerns about a backlash.
To resolve this issue, the city will expand its existing counseling and formal complaint channels to not just workers in the public sector but also to those in the private sector, offering multilateral assistance including legal advice, counseling, and workplace reviews to prevent the recurrence of such transgressions.
Furthermore, the city plans to offer a one-stop service to help businesses with 30 employees or less to adopt a program to prevent harassment and resolve related disputes, dispatching Seoul’s “certified village labor attorneys,” lawyers, and communication specialists to provide consultations on prevention workshops, consultations for victims as well as legal consultations. For the company owners and managers, the city will offer labor law management consultations so that they can set up a protective system for their employees.
The city will also heighten protection for emotional labor forces. Not only will this policy protect workers but also ensure that businesses take responsibility and promote a heightened public awareness to mitigate workers’ distress.
To begin with, damage redress will become more specialized and systematic. Matters involving workers’ stress and anxiety will be referred to the city’s counseling centers and mental health promotion centers at each autonomous district, while legal issues will be referred to the city’s labor rights protection division, consisting of certified labor law specialists and lawyers, who will offer services ranging from legal consultations to lawsuits.
Starting next year, the city will operate a team of “consultants on emotion-intensive labor” composed of counselors. These consultants will visit private companies, helping them create manuals, provide victims with consultations and hold preventative workshops. And investment institutions will be required to offer emotional labor force protection consulting to assign responsibility on the part of the companies.
The city also plans to expand ordinances on the protection of emotional labor workers from the existing seven to cover all 25 autonomous districts to facilitate more effective assistance for private firms and promote a campaign to change a prevailing misconception that “a customer is always right.”
④ Continuing its push to create pioneering labor policies
And lastly, it will continue to improve upon and develop pioneering labor policies such as transitioning temporary workers to permanent positions, Seoul-standard living wages, shorter working hours, and placing union representatives on the board of directors, so that they pave the way to improve the quality of life for workers.
The Seoul city has so far helped transition temporary workers in the public sector to 13,114 permanent positions, the first autonomous government in the nation to do so. Seoul’s hourly basic living wages have surpassed 10,000 won, helping raise the workers’ minimum wage, and introduced a policy to place union representatives on company boards to lay the foundation for closer cooperative labor-management relations and played a part in improving corporate transparency.
The city is also continually expanding its protective facilities and support services to focus on implementing policies that are practically beneficial for workers. It plans to expand the operation of workers’ support centers to all autonomous districts from the current 22 within next year, providing in-depth services such as consultations and damage redress. It also plans to open a “Seoul Labor Portal” in the first half of 2021 in keeping with the current “untact” trends and provide non-face-to-face consultations and education and wider access to its labor services.
The Seoul government has earmarked 59.7 billion won for next year to implement its second round of its five-year plan and plans to inject a total of 421 billion won until 2024.
“The second round of our labor policy plan contains measures to brace for an era of `the new normal with COVID-19,’ and reflects the ever-fluctuating labor market and the future of labor,” said Seo Seong-man, Director-General of Labor & Livelihood Security Policy at the Seoul Metropolitan Government. “The city will strive to ensure the health and labor rights of platform workers and other new types of the atypical workforce, as well as essential workers such as caretakers for the young and the elderly and delivery workers, focus on creating a safe workplace and thereby enhance the quality of life for workers in Seoul.”