President Moon has promised to propose new legislation tentatively named the "Special Law on Preventing Discrimination against Non-Regular Workers," with the following proposed components:
- Enforcing equal pay for equal work.
- Imposing limits on the use of fixed-term and part-time employees, which will prohibit their use for safety-related work, and jobs that are not temporary or seasonal.
- Introducing a non-regular-worker levy on large companies that hire an excessive number of non-regular workers.
- Imposing some form of joint-employer liability over the employees of internal contractors, to cover even legitimate contractor relationships free of illegal worker-dispatch issues. "Internal" or "in-house" contractors refer to third-party contractors whose workplaces are located at their service recipients' premises.
Under Korean labor law, there are two broad categories of workers: regular and nonregular. Regular workers are full-time employees with indefinite (i.e. permanent) employment terms. There are four (4) principal types of non-regular workers: (i) part-time employees; (ii) fixed-term employees; (iii) dispatched workers from manpower agencies; and (iv) in-house contractor employees who work for a service recipient but who are not subject to direct control and supervision by that recipient.
Thanks to relatively recent amendments, current law already provides robust protections from discrimination against the first three categories of non-regular workers; for example, willful or repeat violators are subject to punitive damages (up to treble damages). These increased protections have resulted in more disputes between workers and companies, and this trend is expected to accelerate if these proposed changes become law.
There has never been any regulation of the types of roles that can be filled by fixed-term and part-time employees (whereas dispatched workers have always been limited to particular kinds of positions). If this proposal becomes law, companies will be prohibited from using even part-time or fixed-term workers for any jobs that are not temporary or seasonal, or for safety-related work. Since these jobs will have to be filled only with regular employees, companies' personnel costs will increase and disputes concerning converting non-regular workers to permanent employees are likely to follow.
Moreover, if this proposed legislation passes, a using company will bear joint-employer liability respecting the employees of any in-house contractors, even in the case of a legitimate service-provider relationship. Currently, a using company has an obligation to directly hire the employees of a contractor if the relationship is found to be, in substance, an illegal worker-dispatch relationship; but a company is generally not liable to the employees of a true contractor.