SEOUL, Feb. 14 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in promised additional support for self-employed, small business owners Thursday, calling them an important pillar of the economy, in a rare meeting held at his office Cheong Wa Dae.
In the meeting attended by some 160 self-employed business people and small shop owners, the president said the small business people should be treated as workers instead of employers.
"Until now, self-employed business people have generally been considered business owners under the dichotomic division of economic players as labor and management. But self-employed people work both as managers and workers at the same time," the president told the meeting, the first of its kind to be held at the presidential office.
"(Their) title is chief executive office but in reality, many fall in the category of self-employed worker. The fact is the income of middle- and lower-level self-employed people is worse than that of employed workers," the president added, noting his own parents had been self-employed, low-income earners.
Moon said self-employed business people must be treated as a separate and important group also because of their numbers.
As of end-2018, there were 5.64 million self-employed business people and small retailers, according to the president.
With up to 1.1 million members of their own families considered to be working for them without pay, the total number accounts for more than 25 percent of the total 26.82 million people currently employed, he said.
"So self-employed businesses are an important pillar of our economy. Should the size of self-employed businesses and small retailers be so great, I believe we ought to consider them as an independent area of economic policy," Moon added.
The government is already doing more than any former administration has done to specifically help small businesses, he insisted.
"That is why this administration created the office of a secretary to the president for self-employed businesses at Cheong Wa Dae for the first time in history, bringing self-employed business up as an important area of economic policy," the president said.
The government plans to issue 18 trillion won (US$16 billion) worth of gift certificates that can only be used at small businesses and traditional marketplaces by 2021, according to Moon.
It will also seek to have every traditional marketplace be equipped with adequate parking spaces, the president said, noting such a move at some select marketplaces has led to a 24 percent spike in sales.
"I wish for this year to be the first year when conditions for self-employed businesses start to improve," he told the meeting.