Bank Strikes: For Whom? For What?

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Bank Strikes: For Whom? For What?

The crisis of the Korean economy has been linked with various problems, including foreign currency, the financial industry, labor, government officials, politics etc.

Since the 1997 currency crisis, South Korea has increased its usable foreign currency reserves but we cannot heave a sigh of relief with the current level of foreign exchange holdings. Even after tons of public funds have been poured into the financial industry, restructuring led by the government is at a standstill. As restructuring the financial sector is deeply related to problems stemming from the corporate, labor and political sectors as well as those from the financial industry itself, it is really hard to carry out thorough financial reform.

It is really regretable to see unionized workers at two banks - Kookmin Bank and Housing and Commercial Bank - striking against a government-initiated merger plan. I wish the goal of their strikes had coincided with the economic development of the nation.

Regardless of whether the merger was planned voluntarily by the two banks or they were coerced by a third-party, Goldman Sachs and ING Barings, the largest shareholders of the two banks to be merged and companies that are known for their keen interest in profits, supported the merger, and the government also gave the green light to the plan. It is the bank employees who protest against it. If the government backpedals on financial restructuring due to the strike, it will deal a serious blow to the nation''s credibility. A country that fails to follow its rules and regulations is disregarded in the world economy.

Banks should contribute to their shareholders as well as their stakeholders, who are customers and bank employees. But depositors with the two striking banks are forced to tolerate inconveniences especially during the year-end holiday season, when financial demand and spending reach a peak, since bank operations are paralyzed by strikes. They are encouraged to use automated teller machines, phone banking systems or to visit other banks like Shinhan Bank, Industrial Bank of Korea and Hanvit Bank for alternative services.

Lenders are not an exception either. Even though some overdue interest payments and some commission payments are likely to be exempted, we cannot expect that trade-related financing, including the opening of letter of credits, will not be affected. Is there any customer not considering changing a bank after experiencing such an inconvenience? Am I going too far if I say the strikes at Kookmin Bank and H&CB, which are being staged in disregard of the shareholders and will inconvenience customers, are nothing but a strike of the union, by the union and for the union?

The best financial service stems from workers who are satisfied with their companies. There lies the core of the issue. Workers can get satisfaction when a mental element like pride in professionalism and a material element like high pay come hand in hand. Employees working in the Korean financial sector seem to lack professionalism and have a very strong obsession with a "lifetime" occupation. There is no world-class bank that allows a militant union to hold control over its management and disturb operations.

Unfortunately, I cannot find a Korean bank that can be compared with a top-notch foreign bank. The two striking banks are classified as "leading banks," meaning the larger ones in a group. That''s because some experts feel uneasy over "leading banks," and this strikes confirm the reality of the uneasiness. The government, which failed to realize the realities of economic crisis, frequent cabinet reshuffling that induced a lack of consistency in implementing its policy and politicians who have been seeking popularity with the voters are all responsible for making the economy seriously ill.

Furthermore, a bank strike is suicide for the two banks and a hazardous action against the national economy.
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