The Minister of Labor and the Tripartite Committee of Labor, Management and Government decided on May 30 to discuss the women workers' monthly leave in connection with the women-related labor laws currently being reviewed at the National Assembly. The decision has prompted backlash from women's groups.
The KWAU, Womenlink Korea, Korea Union of Women Workers and the Korea Women's Trade Unions issued a statement, through which they declared, "We strongly oppose the government's attempt to undermine women workers' health rights by doing away with monthly leaves on the pretext of improving working conditions."
The Korea Confederation of Trade Unions also condemned the move to abolish women's monthly leaves, saying that it is "an anachronistic move in the light of the current debate to reduce working hours." The Confederation also says that "lifting regulations prohibiting overtime, night shifts and holiday duties for women in the process of formulating maternity protection laws will set back working conditions for not only women but the entire workforce."
This repeated attempt to abolish monthly leaves is masterminded by the management, which has been pushing for the abolishment of the system of paid monthly leave for women since 1997, claiming that no other country in the world has such a system.
Kim Ellim, researcher with the Korea Institute for Women's Development, concedes that "Korea, Japan, and Indonesia have the monthly leave system, of which only Korea makes it a paid leave system." But Korea lacks the working environment that guarantees labor rights for women such as equal employment, equal pay, maternity protection, recognition of family commitments and protection against sexual harassment at work. Women in other countries enjoy these rights, so according to Kim, saying that monthly leaves should be abolished just because other countries do not have such a system does not hold water.
In other words, Korea should fall in line with the global trend of strengthening maternity protection through the prohibition of night shifts for women and the extension of maternity and childcare leaves. There is time enough to enter monthly leaves into the debate after Korean society has taken over some of the maternity burden from women.
Women workers intend to counter the government and management's move to abolish monthly leaves and worsen women's working conditions in connection with their on-going struggle to legislate Maternity Protection Laws.