Labor Reform in South Korea: Creating a Place Where There are Many Paths to Success
November 24, 2015
On the evening of the day earlier this month when South Korean high school seniors took their college entrance exam, a friend in Seoul posted a note on Facebook about the shame he was feeling. He wrote that his son, who is in his early 20s several years out of high school, took the test for a third time and, once again, the result disappointed. He didn’t specify, but clearly it wasn’t good enough for a top university that most people in South Korea see as the step to a successful corporate or government career.
Two days later, on Saturday, Nov. 14, labor activists staged the largest protest of Park Geun-hye’s presidency. About 70,000 turned out in the traditional protest area around Seoul City Hall and Gwanghwamun, angry that Park’s labor reform measures would make it easier for companies to fire people.
My friend and the labor protesters are moved by the same force, though they may not say it or even recognize it. It is the belief that career success, and all the financial and psychic rewards that spill from it, can be achieved in only one way: by working at the same place for a lifetime.
This belief is deeply ingrained in South Korea. Unfortunately, it’s also a giant impediment to economic progress in the country.