News & Statements

COVID-19 Crisis: The crisis must be made into an opportunity to strengthen public services


KPTU and its public institutions affiliates presented the following statement at a press conference on 8 April 2020.

The COVID-19 crisis must be made into an opportunity to strengthen public services and reinforce their public function.
- Public institution workers' position on the deepening economic crisis

- The government must a moratorium on all dismissals and expand support for vulnerable groups.
- Increased funding is needed beyond the 2nd supplementary.
- To respond to the jobs crisis, the government must act as the 'employer of last resort'.
- The economic crisis must not be used as a pretext for dismissal of precarious workers. Permanently-employed workers will stand in solidarity to see this doesn&rsquot happen.
- The next supplementary budget must include funding to strengthen the healthcare system and dramatically increase healthcare jobs, beginning this year.
- Essential public services such as rail, metro and airport services must be maintained in times of disaster.
- All jobseekers must be provided with unemployment insurance and government support. To enable this, an increase in worker and employer contributions to unemployment insurance must be pursued.
- KPTU proposes urgent -government negotiations on strengthening of the social safety net, ensuring that no workers are left behind due to blind spots in support measures, and the expansion of public sector employment.

The spread of COVID-19 is leading to a deepening economic crisis. The government passed a first supplementary budget and then went on to provide financial assistance to corporations. It is now planning to propose a second supplementary budget to cover emergency disaster relief subsidies. These measures have included some support for workers who are facing extreme employment insecurity and loss of income, but they are simply not enough. Furthermore, almost no plans have been proposed for ensuring the maintenance of essential public services, which must continue to function as a basic safety net in times of crisis.

Given predictions that the economic crisis will only continue to worsen, public institution workers who are charged with delivering public services put forth the following immediate demands. Our policy proposals make clear demands on the government and corporations, but also reflect our intentions to contribute to efforts to overcome the crisis.

At the current moment, declaring a moratorium on dismissals to ensure that workers in non-standard forms of employment and small-scale companies, and other vulnerable groups do not lose their jobs, and widespread support to make up for losses in income are the most important tasks, in addition to strengthening public services and expanding employment. To make these goals achievable, urgent measures are needed in addition to the emergency disaster relief subsidies that will be covered by the second supplementary. We call for these measures to be reflected in government policy and the third and fourth supplementary budgets.

Financing is also a difficult issue. The Ministry of Strategy and Finance has said that the second supplementary budget will be covered entirely through a reprioritising of public expenditures, but it will not be possible to cover all future spending in this manner. A new paradigm is needed for how public money is both raised and spent. It is time for the government to come to the table to consult with the Korean Confederation of Trade Union (KCTU), the representative of vulnerable workers who are the target of government support, and public sector trade s to develop a social response.

The employment crisis is now the main problem. Creation of public sector jobs has to be the response.
First, we can predict that the COVID-19 health and economic crisis will lead to a jobs crisis. The public sector must serve as a safety valve for workers who have lost their jobs. To rephrase a claim from the government's 4th Emergency Economy Meeting yesterday, in crisis situations even before the government acts as the 'buyer of last resort' as it said it would, it must act as the 'employer of last resort' To fulfill this role, we propose the government executes measures to expand employment in urgent and essential areas, in particular public health, social services, and increase the safety-related workforce in public institutions. We also believe it will be possible to create more jobs by public sector employers and s working together to reducing working time. It is even possible to create temporary jobs doing urgently needed disease prevention and containment tasks. Emergency -government and -employer consultations should be held to develop a concrete plan.

Second, we make clear that precariously-employed workers in the public sector must not be dismissed in response to financial crisis. For example, the jobs of subcontracted workers who have been in a process of insourcing at Incheon International Airport must be protected in the face of an extreme of passengers. During the 1998 and 2008 economic crises, it was customary for companies facing business crises to dismissed precariously-employed workers first, putting the burden on the most vulnerable. This process led to deep social conflict. We cannot repeat the same mistake this time around. The more severe the crisis the more critical it is that the employment of the most vulnerable is protected. We must start by practicing this principle in the public sector as an example for the rest of society to follow. As permanently-employed workers, we will also demonstrate solidarity in defending the jobs of outsourced, subcontracted and other precariously-employed workers.

Investment in essential public services must be increased in times of crisis.
Third, the expansion of public healthcare and social services must be made an absolute priority. We must move quickly to increase public hospital capacity to 30% and create jobs in this sector. Support for healthcare workers in public hospitals who are on the frontlines of disease prevention and treatment must be dramatically expanded and staffing levels increased. Through the COVID-19 crisis it has become apparent that public healthcare is an essential lifeline for all. Beginning this year, the number of public healthcare facilities must be increased and public control over private facilities strengthened. Small local private hospitals now facing management crises should be made public and a public health network established to enable a proper response in the case of infectious disease outbreaks.

Public provision of social services (care services) for those who are most vulnerable during health crises, including the elderly, disabled people and children is also an important task. This can be done through the rapid expansion of public social service centres. These tasks cannot be pushed off. They must be provided for in the upcoming supplementary budgets.

Fourth, the infrastructure for the provision of essential public services must be maintained. Already, public institutions are exercising social responsibility by supporting prevention measures and the distribution of financial aid. They are using up their budgets to provide low rental rates for small companies and the self-employed. The public companies operating essential public infrastructure such as the rail, metro and airports are suffering huge deficits as a result of social distancing measures. In crisis times, this essential public infrastructure must be safely maintained. A concept of crisis 'disaster public service obligations (PSO)' should be applied to these public institutions to ensure expanded funding so that unavoidable deficits do not lead to structural adjustment, a decrease in investments in safety or a reduction of services.

Fifth, social protection and social insurance must be strengthened. We call on the government to ensure that all are covered by unemployment insurance coverage and unemployment support. Most experts now agree that the crisis will be long-term, rather than ending in a few months. If this is the case, than strengthening of the social safety net provided by social protect and social insurance is absolutely necessary. A plan is needed to maintain and strengthen the 5 public insurances (unemployment, healthcare, pension, occupational illness and accident and long-term care).

We support reduced and delayed social insurance payments for vulnerable groups as a short-term necessity. But continued reductions without a plan to supplement them will backfire down the road. We therefore call on the government to greatly expand public funding to the public health insurance and unemployment insurance funds. If healthcare insurance during a pandemic and unemployment insurance during an employment crisis do not cover everyone or provide weak coverage, this will only lead to a greater crisis. In addition to greatly relaxing the criteria for qualifying for unemployment benefits, we call on the government to greatly expand public funding for unemployment subsidies to workers excluded from unemployment insurance, including the dependent self-employed, self-employed and other workers in non-standard forms of employment. If the government makes these efforts, we will also agree to an increase of workers&rsquo unemployment insurance payments. This would also require employers to their willingness to increase their share of the burden.

This time things must be different.
10 years ago when the global economic crisis of 2008- led to mass redundancies, workers first used the slogan "We only survive together." KPTU believes that now, in a new time of economic crisis, this slogan must become the basis for real policy. At the same time, we must make it clear that should the government follow the same path it did in the past, adopting policies that required unilateral sacrifices from workers, we will be forced to resist once again. During the past two economic crises, public sector workers were made to shoulder the burden through reductions in workforce levels, redundancies, wage cuts, outsourcing, privatisation and labour repression. The results of these policies can only but be extreme enterprise-level struggle. In the past, these measures taken by the government and employers left a deep scar not only for workers, but for the entire society. It is now in the hands of the government and employers to decide whether we will repeat the same traumatic experience for a third time.

To employers, we say this. The demands recently put forth by the Korean Enterprises Federation (KEF) for easier dismissals, lower corporate and inheritance taxes and amnesty for business people convicted of corruption have nothing to do with the health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19. Stop acting like the filthiest of capitalist attempting to use the crisis to get whatever you can. Instead use this opportunity to disband the KEF. There are still some public corporations paying KEF membership fees from taxpayers' money. We call on them to immediately disaffiliate. We state clearly that if employers take the same attitude as KEF it will make social dialogue impossible. We don&rsquot oppose the government providing financial support to corporations, but this must be condition on maintenance of the employment of (prohibition on the dismissal of) not only permanently employed workers, but also subcontracted and other precariously-employed workers and prohibition of salary increases for executives, the payment of dividends to shareholders and the repurchase of company stock. It must also be conditioned on respect for trade activities and non-abrogation of existing collective agreements. Similar systems have already been introduced in the United States and Europe as part of the response to the current crisis.

The labour movement will also do everything we can to help confront the crisis. It is already well known that many workers have been left behind in the support measures already implemented by the government. Within KPTU&rsquos membership mass layoffs and unpaid time-off are already a reality in the aviation sector, while low-wage workers in social services (long-term care, patient care, childcare, disabled assistance and other forms of care work) are facing a dramatic in income, and yet are excluded from income support. Countless dependent self-employed workers are being excluded from support because the criteria for including them are unclear. KPTU is doing everything in our power to locate these workers who have been left behind and make it possible for them to receive the support they need. We call on the government to do a joint survey with us to identify these groups.

At the same time public institutions are now in the process of conducting yearly performance evaluations. In this time of crisis, it is a rather meaningless exercise. How can an evaluation of performance and payment of bonuses be meaningful at a time like this? We call on public institutions to stop this practice right now and focus all efforts on overcoming the social crisis.

If the government takes a forward-looking approach and reflects plans for protect vulnerable groups and maintaining public services and strengthening their public function in is emergency economic measures, third supplementary budget and re-prioritisation of spending, public institution trade s will be ready to engage in emergency -government dialogue. In this process we will not disregard our social responsibility as permanently employed public sector workers. Public institution workers are making these demands for a plan to overcome the crisis as main actors in the operation of the country. We call on the government for emergency consultations to overcome the social crisis caused by COVID-19 from this perspective.