1st-slot lawmakers in stark difference
By Park Si-soo
Female nuclear scientist Min Byung-joo has become a lawmaker for the ruling Saenuri Party under the proportional representation system. The 53-year-old was given the first slot in the ruling party’s 46-candidate lineup, indicating that her election has been predestined.
The party’s decision reflects its strong attention to the science world as well as efforts to make scientists’ voice better resonate in the political arena, observers said. She currently serves as a senior researcher at the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) and will join the 19th National Assembly, which starts on May 30 for a four-year term.
Min said her policies will focus on creating more well-paying jobs for young scientists and establishing better welfare programs for female scientists.
“I will talk with companies a lot about how to create good jobs for talented scientists and engineers,” Min said.
Noting that many talented female scientists have quit their job to take care of their children, she said she will try hard to improve the working environment where female scientists can engross themselves in research and studies without worrying about childcare.
She blamed the country’s relatively low recognition of scientists and engineers on the government’s “inconsistent” policies.
“Policies on science should be carried out consistently regardless of leadership change. But it’s not the case in Korea,” she complained. “Every new leader pushes forward with new ideas that overhaul policies established by their predecessor, making it extremely difficult for scientists and engineers to predict the future of their careers.”
The zigzag policy has led many young, talented scientists to flee to medical school in pursuit of well-recognized and high-salaried jobs in the medical industry, posing a threat to the country’s high-tech driven growth engine.
“I feel burdened,” the novice lawmaker-in-waiting said. “I will work hard to be recognized by the general public as a creditable politician who keeps all commitments I made. Also I will work with an attitude that serves all citizens.”
Labor activist Jeon Soon-ok won a parliamentary seat for the largest opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) thanks largely to her late brother Jeon Tae-il.
Her brother burnt himself to death in November 1970 to protest the horrible working conditions in sweatshops. His death triggered large-scale rallies calling for the improvement of working conditions and made the deceased a symbol of labor activism.
In recognition of his contribution and obviously to woo working-class voters, the DUP placed his sister with a doctoral degree in sociology the first on its list of proportional representation candidates. Jeon said she will stand at the forefront of campaigns to upgrade the working environment.
“I will work hard to improve what I think are still weak working conditions,” Jeon said. “I will try to do this by amending related regulations and creating new ones.”
The 58 year-old said the Korea has seen a dramatic rise in the economy over the past decades, while its overall working conditions are little different from what she saw back in the 1970s.
“I returned home in 2001 after earning a Ph.D from a British university and then worked at a factory for several months,” she recollected. “But I could not find anything improved from the working conditions I experienced in the 1970s.”
“In the past,” she said, “I endured the hardship with hope that the situation would get better as I worked hard. But the current situation proves that it was a pipedream.”
She said her policies will be focused on improving the life quality of workers by providing them with “more opportunities to learn, to enjoy one’s life and to change their life on their own.”
She unveiled one of her ambitious projects which, if materialized, could help improve the bottom-line of “tens of thousands of small businesses” in central and northern part of Seoul.
Jeon will seek cooperation with lawmakers to create a special zone in which small businesses benefit from special treatment.
“I will become a lawmaker representing diligent and honest workers,” Jeon said. “I strongly believe the manufacturing industry will decide the future of Korea. My work will focus on reviving the country’s manufacturing industry so that workers are well treated as in Japan and Germany.”