Today, the Ministry of Employment and Labor; Ministry of Environment; and Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs are jointly presenting briefings. The briefings about their policy-related work will focus on job creation. The Government should steadfastly implement policies in every area while going all out to stem the spread of novel coronavirus infections. In particular, job creation is the top administrative priority that cannot be neglected for even an instant. Of note, citizens, the consumers of government policies, are joining today’s briefings in order to gauge the achievements and shortcomings in our job creation efforts from their perspectives. I find this very meaningful and also want to thank them for joining us.
Tourism, the service industry and manufacturers whose production processes are linked to China are bearing the brunt of the novel coronavirus outbreak. It is also highly likely that the situation will weigh on conditions for job growth. I encourage you all – as you devise measures for employment, the economy and people’s livelihood – to have a heightened sense of urgency in consideration of these factors.
Last year, there was a rebound in job creation. Both the quality and quantity of employment saw distinct improvements. The number employed rose by over 300,000, more than doubling the initial target. The employment rate posted was also the highest since such statistics started to be tabulated. Amidst this, the employment situation among the youth, women and senior citizens showed considerable improvement. The number of the permanently employed and employment insurance subscribers significantly increased. The percentage of low-income workers decreased below 20 percent for the first time in history.
When it comes to pay gaps, income disparities between those in the higher and lower brackets, between large businesses and SMEs and between men and women were all narrowed. I believe that all of this is the result of the Government’s steadfast efforts carried out with policy consistency under such difficult circumstances as the global economic downturn, restructuring of manufacturing, aging of our society and our dwindling working age population.
This year should be the one when the people can sense tangible changes beyond the rebound in job creation. More than anything else, it is important for the private sector to create more jobs. The public sector should serve as a pump-primer and further devote its energies into building the momentum of job creation in the private sector.
First of all, I urge you to focus on locally led job creation. We’ve already seen the creation of the seventh mutually beneficial local jobs program in Busan early this year. Starting with last year’s Gwangju-type jobs, these programs are bringing new hope to provincial areas. This is the result of concerted efforts by labor, management, civic groups and government. As applicable laws concerning relevant assistance have been enacted, I ask you to do everything you can so that job programs can spread to an increasing number of areas.
In addition, it will also be necessary to actively support the creation of jobs tailored to each different region so that diverse jobs that match local characteristics can be generated and regional industrial complexes can serve as hubs for local job creation.
After all, it is businesses that create quality jobs. By reinforcing regulatory innovation, investments and incentives, we need to revitalize manufacturing, our mainstay industry, and enhance productivity and competitiveness. We also have to create new growth engines by further promoting the data economy, a Government priority, and fostering such new industries as biohealth, future cars and system semiconductors.
Having emerged as promising industries, the environmental and agricultural sectors are also treasure troves of new jobs. The global eco-friendly green industry market is worth US$1.2 trillion – triple that of semiconductors. Since the green industry promotes both economic gains and environmental values and will become an increasingly important element in determining national competitiveness going forward, I ask you to strengthen the foundation for the growth of the domestic green industry through active public investments.
In particular, the Republic of Korea will host the P4G Summit this year, so we must fulfill our role as a responsible member in regard to international cooperation on climate change responses and sustainable development.
Agriculture also contributes significantly to job creation and economic vitality. Exports of agricultural and livestock products surpassed those of home appliances last year. I ask you to provide systematic support for those young, middle-aged and elderly citizens who are building new foundations for living in rural areas, regarding their turning to farming, preparing for startups and settling down. On top of this, I urge you to further spur the expansion of smart farming and the pioneering of new export markets for agricultural products such as strawberries, grapes and other K-food.
We need to further strengthen support for the creation of jobs customized for each generation and social class. Particularly this year, we need to do our utmost to improve employment conditions in a way that young people can sense and resolve the employment slump among those in their 40s. Since employment, especially among those in their 40s, may undergo more significant changes as the Fourth Industrial Revolution progresses, it will be necessary to devise short- and long-term countermeasures at the same time.
I ask you to lay out substantive, comprehensive measures that encompass not only matching the right person to the right job as soon as possible but also training those currently employed, providing job transfer programs and supporting startups.
The only way to prepare for the rapid decline in the size of the working age population is to expand the participation of women and senior citizens in economic activities as much as possible. We have to create an environment for women to work free from anxieties, for instance, by strengthening employment support for women whose careers have been interrupted, helping childcare leave take root for both mothers and fathers and expanding extended after-school daycare programs for pre- and elementary school students.
Job programs for seniors will be expanded even further this year. This will be the same as providing welfare by giving the elderly a chance to work as well as allowing them to participate in social activities as long as possible. It is about time to start reviewing in earnest the policies extending employment of older workers.
Meanwhile, the employment safety net has to be knit more tightly. I ask you to strive to help pass related bills in the National Assembly so that an employment support program can be implemented as planned. This Korean-style unemployment allowance will support low-income job seekers without employment insurance by strengthening their livelihoods while assisting their career searches.
I would like you to show special interest in establishing a social safety net for unconventional workers, who are mostly the contract-based self-employed, and those involved in platform labor. Last year, the number of annual working hours fell to between 1,900 and 2,000 for the first time. Achieving a work-life balance is also a fundamental solution for the low birthrate problem. I ask you to set a goal to ensure that the 52-hour workweek takes hold and the number of annual working hours falls to between 1,800 and 1,900.
At today’s briefings, a farming subsidy system designed to promote the public good and fine dust countermeasures are important tasks to be discussed, in addition to updates on job-related policies. The seasonal management system to reduce fine dust is showing clear effects. For the two-month period from last December – when the seasonal management system came into effect for the first time – to January, the concentration level of ultrafine dust recently fell about 13 percent compared with the three-year average. The number of days with high ultrafine dust concentration significantly decreased from the two-month average of eight days to one day. As it remains to be seen what will happen in February and March, I urge you to strongly push ahead with measures to further boost the results.
In addition, the subsidy system designed to promote the public good will start to take effect this year. It will be an enormous change that will institutionally protect the public good-promoting function of agriculture and strengthen the income safety net of small- and medium-sized farming households. It’s important that the purpose of the system is properly served in rural areas as intended. Thus, I ask you to prepare meticulous plans, starting from the subsidy application stage to post-distribution management while gathering a wide range of opinions from farmers, related associations and specialists. That is all for today. Thank you.