The number of furloughs at the National Election Commission in the run-up to last year’s March 9 presidential and June 1 local elections was the highest in a decade, according to a report on Saturday. The NEC reportedly hired most of the civil servants to take over the duties of the furloughed employees on a full-time career basis, rather than on a contractual or fixed-term basis. “It is a gross moral hazard situation that employees of the constitutional body that manages elections have taken a massive leave of absence ahead of the election, and some executives have hired their own children, who are local government employees, as full-time career employees to fill the gaps left by the absentees,” said a criticism in the passport.

/Graphic=Park Sang-hoon

According to the ‘Status of Leave of Absence by Year from 2013 to 2022’ received from the National Election Commission by Representative Jung Woo-taek of the People’s Power, the total number of leave of absence in 2021 was 193, including 140 for parental leave. In 2020, 107 people took leave, including 73 on parental leave, nearly doubling the number in a year. In 2022, when presidential and local elections were held in the first half of the year, the number of absences was 190 (112 in the first half and 78 in the second half), including 109 for parental leave. This is the second largest number of absences in the last 10 years, after 2021. Parental leave was the most common reason for leave, followed by “illness leave” and “family care leave,” the NEC said. This is a significant increase from the time of Noh Jeong-hee, the former chairwoman of the NEC (November 2020-May 2022), and Noh Tae-ak, the current chairwoman (since May 2022).

The NEC expanded the scale of career recruitment after a large number of people took leave of absence ahead of last year’s presidential and local elections. The number of experienced hires nearly tripled in four years, from 26 in 2018 to 75 last year. On the other hand, the number of new open recruitments (election administration positions) decreased from 110 to 77 during the same period, while the number of leave of absence increased from 126 to 190. In response, the NEC said, “There is a high demand for career recruitment due to the number of employees taking parental leave before the election,” and “In the case of new recruitment, the number of ‘election administration’ positions decreased, but the number of ‘general administration’ positions increased, so the overall recruitment volume is similar to previous years.”

However, it has been pointed out that NEC executives have used career recruitment as a channel for preferential hiring for their children먹튀검증. The Election Commission’s Civil Service Rules stipulate that “time-selective tenured civil servants and limited-term civil servants may be hired to cover the work of those who are on leave.” Even though there is a regulation that allows the hiring of so-called “contractual civil servants,” the company stuck to the regular career hiring method. The majority of the children of the 11 former and current officials involved in the ‘suspected recruitment irregularities’ were also employed by the NEC through this regular career hiring method.

“The NEC’s practice of regular career hiring is no different from increasing the number of full-time teachers by hiring a career teacher instead of a temporary teacher to replace a teacher who went on parental leave,” said Rep. Chung Woo-taek. Executive branch agencies also use a combination of entry-level and career hires. However, the executive branch is subject to audits by the Ministry of Personnel and Innovation, so it is not easy to use “fatherhood” by increasing career hiring. The Election Commission, on the other hand, does not have such a check on hiring.

Sign of the National Election Commission./News1

In response, the Election Commission said, “In order to ensure the ‘political neutrality’ of parties for election management, the obligations of ‘political neutrality’ and ‘no party membership’ are commonly applied, and incumbent officials whose work is relatively easy to grasp are recruited first.” It added, “Although the number of employees may temporarily increase due to the return of those on leave, there are factors that reduce the number of employees every year, such as retirement age, resignation, and leave of absence, so we try to minimize unnecessary expansion of employees.” In addition, in the case of the Election Commission, the difference between election years and non-election years is large, so it is often necessary to hire experienced staff all at once.

Historically, it’s been common practice within the organization to have an increase in vacancies ahead of national elections. It’s not uncommon for people to take low-intensity jobs in non-election years to avoid the overtime and weekend work that is common during election years. In the last 10 years, 138 people (120 on parental leave) took leave in 2014, the year after the local elections in 2021 and 2022, followed by 137 people (112 on parental leave) in 2017, the year of the presidential election, and 126 people (96 on parental leave) in 2018, the year of the local elections.

In response to this, the NEC said, “It is judged that it is not avoiding the election, but mainly leaves of absence (childcare, illness, family care) that are difficult to combine with election management work.” “The state is encouraging childbirth and childrearing, and parental leave is an individual right, so there is nothing to stop it,” said an Election Commission employee, adding, “Nowadays, there are a lot of parental leaves in general workplaces, so it should be seen in that light.” The son of a current Election Commission executive, who joined the organization as a “regular career recruitment” to fill the gap created by the large number of vacancies, is also reportedly on parental leave after being promoted to the seventh grade in just over six months.

“It is free for an individual employee to take a leave of absence, but if the number of employees who take a leave of absence increases during the election period to the extent that it interferes with the essential election management work, there is a structural problem,” said Representative Jung Woo-taek. “The entire organization needs to reflect on whether it considers the Election Commission as a ‘part-time job’ where the chairman of the Election Commission and the Supreme Court justice work part-time, and whether the entire organization considers the Election Commission as a means of earning a living.” If the Election Commission’s purpose is to manage elections, and the number of leaves of absence increases with each election, it is bound to be a problem.

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