SEOUL, Feb. 11 (Korea Bizwire) — An ad supporting part-time workers’ labor rights is being involved in an unexpected controversy, and is at the forefront of a showdown between the nation’s employers and job seekers.
The commercial, which was created by AlbaMon, a job information site, features Hyeri, a member of the popular K-pop girl group Girl’s Day, who shares a series of messages that highlight part-time workers’ labor rights. The ad suggests that if your employer does not abide by current labor laws, and subjects you to harsh labor conditions, you should quit and try to land a better job operated by seemingly “nice” employers.
At first blush, nothing in the video appears to be particularly problematic or controversial, however some employers are starting to feel the heat as the commercial paints a clearly negative picture of small business owners in general. Albamon, an affiliate site of JobKorea, South Korea’s leading job information site, is a destination where part-time job seekers can search for employment at small businesses such as Internet cafes, convenience stores and bakeries.
The commercial, which is being aired in a sequel format under the title ‘Alba Is Gap,’ mirrors an increasingly intense debate over the unequal association represented by ‘Gap-Eul’ relations in Korea. Alba is a Korean expression referring to part-time workers, and is borrowed from the German term ‘arbeiter.’ ‘Gap’ and ‘Eul’ refer to individuals with an established (contractual or hierarchical) connection through their work. Gap refers to someone who is in the dominant or superior position over Eul, and in this way Eul the party in the subordinate position.
When ‘Gap’, or those who are in superior positions, wield hugely unfair power over their subordinates, the unequal relationship could be conceptualized in the context of a ‘Gap-Eul relationship’ these days. That is why the famous ‘nut rage’ scandal — where the daughter of Korean Air’s chairman turned around a taxiing aircraft after being served bagged nuts in first class — is a typical example of this kind of situation.
In the Albamon commercial, Hyeri says, “Do you know what the minimum wage per hour is? Even though the wage increase is only 370 won, if your employer doesn’t pay even this minimum level wage, [you know what you’re supposed to do next?] and if your boss ignores your basic rights, just quit your job right away!” The K-pop star goes on to express other similar messages, mostly in support of part-time workers.
However, the nation’s employers, particularly owners of small-sized businesses, were angered by the commercial. A spokesperson from the Korea Internet Content Service Cooperative, a trade group representing the nation’s Internet cafe businesses, said “This commercial is so misleading to the point that when you watch it, most small business owners who can’t help but hire part-time workers are presented as ‘sweatshop owners.’ Albamon’s commercial excessively represents the point of view of the employee.”
Their bad feeling prompted them to make a ‘tit-for-tat’ site called ‘SajangMon’ (Sajang means president in Korean), a countermeasure against Albamon, in a gesture to boycott the popular job site and instead operate their own version. A person who claims to have made the Sajangmon site said, “More participation by employers is needed for now to protest against the ‘unfair’ Albamon commercial. We have to correct the misleading messages contained in the commercial created by Albamon” in a post uploaded on the newly made Sajangmon site.
In general, however, the Albamon commercial is garnering favorable responses from ordinary citizens, because this film speaks for the marginalized individuals in a nation where the gap between the haves and have-nots is increasingly wide, and many college students — who make up the bulk of part time employees — find it impossible to work their way through school, even if they spend long hours at part-time jobs.
That student loans from the government rose nearly three-fold from 2010 to 2014 due to tuition increases speaks volumes about the harsh conditions students are facing today. When it comes to finding ‘hope,’ employers rather than part-time workers might find themselves in a favorable position, and in this vein, the Albamon commercial resonates with many Netizens who are increasingly disillusioned with the class-war conflict that is currently represented by unequal ‘Gap-Eul’ relationships.
By Jerry M. Kim (firstname.lastname@example.org)