Precarious Working Life and Miliant Activism of Non-Regular Workers in South Korea

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 1:15 PM
Room: 501
Oral Presentation
Byoung-Hoon LEE , Chung-Ang University, South Korea
Jik-Soo KIM , Chung-Ang University, South Korea
From the early 2000s, non-regular employment has become a core labor policy issue in South Korea. Non-regular labor, comprised of a variety of precarious employment patterns, such as fixed-term workers, part-time workers, dispatched and subcontracted workers, home workers, and dependent self-employed workers, has proliferated in Korea, particularly along with changing corporate employment strategies after the economic crisis of 1997. The diffusion of non-regular employment has led to the growing segmentation of labor markets in the country because those workers suffer from not only inferior working conditions and a vulnerable employment status, compared to regular workers, but also social exclusion from the protection of legal labor standards and national safety-net.

Given their precarious working life, non-regular workers came to the fore as a symbol of militant labor activism over the past ten years. They organized their unions even under their employers’ harsh suppression and the lack of regular workers union’s support. Those precarious workers engaged in the prolonged strike action to defend their unions from the employers’ suppression and protest against inhuman discrimination imposed on them. Faced with limited movement resources, they often resorted to extreme struggling actions, such as hunger strike, sit-down demonstration at the air, and even committing suicide, in order to gain public attention and create societal pressure to resolve their issues.

In this context, our paper is to discern why union behavior of non-standard workers are so militant, and to examine causal relationship between those workers’ precarious working life and their militancy.