Find a Way to End the StrikeIt appears that the strike at the Kookmin Bank and the Housing and Commercial Bank will continue for some time. The police were able to disperse demonstrating union members without any unfortunate incidents on Wednesday, but this does not mean that the strikers will return to work soon. The protests could spread if the members of the Korea Financial Industry Union vote to leave work in sympathy with the bank unionists. The situation has already inconvenienced the public and negatively affected the economy, and if the strike drags on or becomes industry-wide, the economy could suffer irreparable damage. To keep the worst from happening, the government, bank management and the bank workers must urgently find some common ground on which to build a solution.
Few would disagree that the government and bank managers have chosen to take the worst of all possible approaches to dealing with troubled banks. In particular, there was little justification for the announcement of the merger of Kookmin and H&CB, and the process that led to it was highly problematic, showing faulty reasoning and insufficient evidence to persuade everyone that this is the right step to take.
Although it was obvious to anyone that protests and strikes would ensue, little or no preparation was made for them. In the rush to push restructuring through before the unreasonable year-end deadline, the government has brought about the paralysis of some banking services and has failed to come up with any suitable countermeasures. Administrators made matters worse by sitting glued to their desks instead of getting out and making efforts to bring unionists around to some sort of understanding of the need for a merger. Once this issue has been resolved, there should be a reckoning whereby those who sat down on the job are called to account for their responsibility in this debacle.
Right now the most pressing task is to get the banks operating normally again. The inconvenience the current situation is causing for individual customers is bad enough, but far worse is the fact that many small and medium-sized enterprises are in danger of defaulting on payments.
Now that the protest rallies have been dispersed, the government and bank management must take the next step and do their best to convince employees to return to work. Without going back on the merger in principle, the government and managers must devise a plan that minimizes layoffs and must show that they are willing to share the pain of restructuring. The bank presidents should get out there and plead with employees, and if need be, cabinet ministers and other high-level officials may have to step forth as well.
We also urge the union members to get back to work for now with no questions asked. Though they may oppose the merger, it is unreasonable for them to bring banking to a halt by going out on strike. Depositors are withdrawing their money from both banks and overseas financial analysts are looking askance at us. If this keeps up, it could lead to trouble at other banks that have remained sound so far.
Of course, it is important for the merger to work out since it is in the best interests of the banking sector, but at the same time, it must not result in the loss of too many jobs. Everyone acknowledges that restructuring of the financial and corporate sectors is unavoidable, though they may disagree on the best way to go about it. The government, management and labor must put their heads together to come up with a way everyone can live with. And they can start by ending the strike and initiating a meaningful dialogue.
by Kim Young-hie