Academic journal article Development and Society

Work-Related Attitudes of Non-Regular and Regular Workers in Korea: Exploring Distributive Justice as a Mediator

Academic journal article Development and Society

Work-Related Attitudes of Non-Regular and Regular Workers in Korea: Exploring Distributive Justice as a Mediator

Article excerpt


Since the late-1990s when the Korean economy faced financial crisis, the problem of the non-regular workforce has become one of the most controversial issues in Korean society. 'Non-regular workers' are all workers who are not in full-time work on an established, long term contract, so it includes part time workers, workers on short term contracts, and other workers whose employment is contingent upon circumstances in the organizational environment.

During the campaign period for National Assembly elections in April 2012, both the ruling party and the major opposition party proposed optimistic solutions for the improvement of the working conditions of nonregular workers. Saenuri Party (2012), which is the ruling party, published its plan to reduce the number of non-regular workers and to remove discrimination against them. The party promised to introduce a policy that would improve wage differentials between non-regular and regular workers who carry out similar jobs in the same workplace. Similarly, the Democratic United Party (2012), then the major opposition party, proposed a conversion of non-regular workers to regular status, arguing that the conversion would have to be initiated in the public sector and large firms.

In March 2015, Statistics Korea (2015a) reported that the number of non-regular workers reached six million, constituting 32 per cent of all employees. Non-regular workers have to work in unstable, lower-paid jobs in poor working conditions without proper fringe benefits or membership of the major insurance schemes. Non-regular workers were reported to earn only 56% of regular workers' monthly wages (Korea Labor Institute 2014). However, the conditions for workers vary according to the size of the firm that employs them. Some non-regular workers in large firms are better offthan regular workers in small and medium-sized firms with respect to wages and working conditions. In practice, over 70% of non-regular workers work in small firms with fewer than 30 employees (Keum 2012).

Most previous studies on non-regular workers in Korea have dealt with such topics as wage differentials between regular and non-regular workers (e.g., Ahn 2001; Kim and Park 2006; Lee and Kim 2009), job satisfaction (Kim 2007; Park and Nho 2002), organizational commitment and job involvement (Koo 2005; Lee and Lee 2005), organizational citizenship behavior (Kwon 2006; Park and Kwon 2004), and unionization and the labor movement (Cho 2011; Jung 2003).

The issue of the non-regular workforce has been approached at three different levels; i.e., firm, labor market and societal levels. At firm level, the management faces challenges of how to make non-regular workers more committed to the organization and thus, to reduce their turnover and intention to leave (Davis-Blake, Broschak and George 2003; Martin and Hafer 1995). At labor market level, a division or segmentation between standard employment relations and non-standard work arrangements has been widely discussed (Cho and Lee 2015; Hudson 2007; Kalleberg 2003; Lee 2007; Song 2012). At societal level, the existence of a massive non-regular workforce in the labor market became a source of social conflict and political instability, as clearly shown in the Korean case (Chun 2009; Lee and Frenkel 2004). Labor unions have been fully engaged in trying to untie this Gordian knot. Internal differentiation and cleavages of the working class have attracted attention from students of social stratification. This article focuses on individual employees at firm, but also discusses the implications for labor market segmentation and socio-politics where appropriate.

This article has three purposes. First, it examines the extent and intensity of non-regular workers' commitment to their organization and their job. Second, it explores how distributive justice mediates the relationship between work status and organizational commitment and job involvement. Third, it examines whether contingent, part-time and non-standard workers, as subgroups of non-regular workers, exhibit different patterns in their workrelated attitudes. …

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