Life of the Self-Employed in the Covid Crisis in South Korea

By Jungwook Hur

Published Date: 2021 / 08 / 16


Late at night on July 15 and 16, car horns filled the streets around Yeouido, Seoul. Around 500 self-employed gathered to protest against the government’s Covid restrictions that allegedly weighed all the burden on them. Currently, as well as the time the protest was held, the capital area of South Korea is under the fourth level of social distancing. It requires the majority of the stores to close before 10 pm, and a maximum of two people can assemble after 6 pm. Self-employed workers have consistently followed the government management despite the critical damage they have received under levels of social distancing that have continued for a year and a half, but their patience seems to be wearing thin. They criticized the government for still relying on the superficial thought that the number of cases will go down if stores close their doors early and demanded adequate compensation for their loss from the time restriction of business, not excluding the loss of those who failed to withstand the burden and already left the business.
Police strictly reacted to the protest by warning the gathered self-employed to dismiss the protest since they were apparently transgressing the disinfection rules. Each of the protesters stayed in his car by himself to conform to the disinfection measures, but the protest was severely interrupted by the police that only 150 out of 500 were able to participate in the car parade - which was greatly contrasting from the lenient police measures on the protest that was held on 7th by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, where around 8,000 people assembled and ignored the disinfection managements such as social distancing. After going through these restrictions, the representative had to begin the press conference 30 minutes late.
The content of the conference and the police response against it proves that the government’s irresponsibility and varying attitudes toward different groups triggered the fury of the self-employed. The government has numerously shown distant degrees of constraints on protests based on the political tendency of the group holding a protest, which must have frustrated people over time. Nonetheless, another crucial mistake of the government has directly impacted the crisis: self-praising. As the number of cases starts to decrease, the government praises their disinfection measures themselves and loosens the restrictions to show off their success, but then the number of cases begins to increase, so the government again strengthens the regulations. This vicious cycle has continued for the past year and a half, of which the regulation strengthening part has critically damaged self-employed. South Korea was once near the end of the Covid crisis when the number of infected decreased to a single digit, but the indolence of the government and thus that of the citizens have made the situation repeat over time. Even though it is late, the government must stop admiring oneself and properly reward the self-employed worker for the damage they have received.

Works Cited ‍
권 도현. “‘자영업자는 죄가 없다’ 거리두기 4단계 항의 차량 시위.” 경향신문, 14 July 2021,
이 기우, and 이 영관. “자영업자 울분의 심야 차량시위... 경찰은 검문벽 치고 막아섰다.”
조선일보 - 1등 디지털뉴스, 5 July 2021, .

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