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Laborers Unable to Take a Break on Workers’ Day
  • By Yoon Hye-won, cub-reporter
  • 승인 2024.05.19 23:57
  • 호수 333
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▲ Employees who must work on Labor Day (Source: Yonhap news)

May 1st is known as ‘Workers’ Day,’ and many companies allow their employees to have the day off although it isn’t designated as a public holiday. However, there are workers who still have to go to work on Workers’ Day and who don’t even receive holiday pay or compensatory time off. According to a survey by HR tech conducted on 1,076 office workers, approximately 25% of them went to work on Workers’ Day and of those, 37% didn’t receive holiday pay or compensatory time off.

According to numerous dictionaries, May 1st, known as Workers’ Day, is designated to console the efforts of workers and boost morale. Originally known as ‘Labor Day’ or ‘May Day’ in the United States, it was renamed ‘Workers’ Day’ during the legislative revision process in South Korea in 1963. There has been a long- time debate whether to use the term ‘Labor Day’ or ‘May Day’ to refer to the holiday. What is the difference in meaning between ‘work’ and ‘labor’? According to the National Institute of the Korean Language’s Standard Korean Language Dictionary, ‘work’ is defined as ‘working diligently,’ and ‘labor’ is defined as ‘the act of exerting physical or mental effort to obtain the necessities of life.’ According to Article 2, Section 1 of the Labor Standards Act, a ‘worker’ is defined as a person who provides business or work for the purpose of receiving wages, regardless of the type of occupation. However, ‘work’ carries the connotation of ‘diligence.’ Additionally, ‘labor’ translates to ‘toil,’ or ‘make an effort’ in English dictionaries. American sociologist Charles Tilly stated, “Labor is hard work, usually physical work,” viewing it as the exertion of physical or mental effort by individuals to produce something valuable. He regarded ‘labor’ not only as physical labor but also as mental and intellectual labor as long as activities create value. For this reason, there is considerable opinion for the official name of May 1st being Labor Day or May Day (Workers’ Day), as it encompasses all forms of labor.

On Workers’ Day, only workers covered by the Labor Standards Act can take the day off. Employees in occupations such as postal workers, private school staff, bus drivers, taxi drivers, etc., aren’t subject to the Labor Standards Act. Similarly, civil servants are required to work as per standard operating procedure as they are governed by the National Civil Servants Act and the Local Civil Servants Act. Platform workers, referring to individuals who engage in labor and services through smartphones, app stores, such as delivery drivers, caregivers, chauffeurs, online legal consultants, as well as those in special employment and freelancers, are also not guaranteed days off.

The varying restrictions on Workers’ Day, with some occupations not guaranteed time off, have sparked dissatisfaction among many people. Due to the evolving societal consciousness, an amendment to establish clearer regulations regarding Workers’ Day is currently pending in the legislature. The representative of the JoGuk Innovation Party stated, “The name ‘Workers’ Day’ needs to be changed.” He further remarked, “The terms ‘work’ and ‘worker’ originate from the era of Japanese colonial rule, where people in authority would instruct others to ‘work hard.’ The bias that ‘work’ is noble while ‘labor’ is impure needs to be broken.” However, there is also the viewpoint that it is unnecessary to amend the law when the term ‘work’ is already commonly used. The differences in these positions reflect the political characteristics of each party, making it difficult to objectively determine which side is right or wrong.

However, simply changing the name of Workers’ Day doesn’t fundamentally resolve the issue. Workers who aren’t protected by the Labor Standards Act may face precarious employment, wage instability, and potential violations of their labor rights. These individuals may not only lack adequate protection regarding working hours but also face issues related to wages, safety, and health. This can lead to economic hardship and exacerbate social inequality, causing imbalances in the labor market. Therefore, it is crucial to expand the scope of the Labor Standards Act or secure sufficient legislation to protect workers outside the law, emphasizing the need for a proper perspective on labor and work and highlighting the importance of future changes.

By Yoon Hye-won, cub-reporter  flipp1005@naver.com

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