- A pain is not a blessing to youth
“A PAIN is a blessing to youth.” as the author Kim Nan-do says, majority of the youth go through the difficulty of life, believing that such hardness will be compensated in the future. But, what if it just ends there? Many youths in South Korea, especially teenage workers, are suffering from unfair treatment in their work places and are not even paid the legal minimum wage. The novel Byul-bol-il-it-nun-nyu-seok-deul, meaning worthwhile individuals, is a Korean novel that portrays the unpleasant reality of the teenage part-time workers. The title refers to the teenagers as “worthwhile people.” However, ironically in society, the youth are often not treated as such. The novel acutely pinpoints the reality of teenager labor human rights.
The protagonist of the novel Yeo Gang-hu is an immature high school freshman. Not only does he belittle his impoverished friends who have to work part-time jobs, but he also derides women and disabled people. One day the tables turn when he gets a part-time job at a restaurant to earn money to adopt an expensive pet. Eventually, he befriends four other teenage part-time workers. Through the help of his friends, Yeo bursts out of his protective bubble and realizes the dire reality of working teenagers.
Teenage workers are often not paid properly. In fact, just like the protagonist and his colleagues in the novel, many of them are not even protected under the law because the employers refuse to sign a proper contract with minors. According to Ministry of Employment and Labor, 85.8% of the businesses that hired teenage employees have violated the National Labor Relations Act. This shows how many employers still abuse their employees by cheating them of their wages to increase profits. In fact, according to the analysis of teenage part-time workers by Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, 45% are working under the minimum wage and 18% even experienced a delay or cancellation in payment of wages. This harsh reality of teenage workers is realistically portrayed in the novel.
Teenage workers are often exposed to sexual physical and emotional abuse as well. In the novel, a friend of Yeo, Chae Soo-bin was sexually harassed by her employer. In fact, according to Women News, 39.9% of the youth claim continuous exposure to sexual harassments as one of the reasons they fear getting part-time jobs as students. Furthermore, in October 2016, a teenage worker working at a convenient store in Namwon was sexually harassed and threatened by her employer while working at her part-time job. As she was in need of money, she could not do anything but tolerate the abuse. Such instances occur frequently but are not brought out to the surface as the victims have no choice but to continue working or because they feel ashamed to bring out the issue to public. Although the Teenager Protection Policy has been applied recently for the protection of labor rights of the teenagers, loopholes still exist. As the novel’s portrayal of the haunting reality makes the readers more aware of such unfair treatment young workers receive, some of the experiences may even be relatable to those to have worked part-time jobs. Their discontented voices did not go unheard. The book reaches out to teenagers who have been cheated on, abused, and considered unworthy; and it sends them a soothing consolation by letting them know they are not forgotten and that they are in fact, “worthwhile.”
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The novel Byul-bol-il-it-nun-nyu-seok-deul enlightens the readers as it sharply pinpoints the hidden reality of teenage workers in South Korea. Teenage workers are not there to just work without proper treatment. Their hard work and effort should be respected by society. It is now time to pay more attention to the teenager workers who are suffering in harsh work environments. Korea needs to protect teenagers like Yeo and his friends so they are treated just like other adult workers.
Lee Sun-Joo firstname.lastname@example.org
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