[EDITORIALS]Good Riddance to Walkouts

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[EDITORIALS]Good Riddance to Walkouts

After Korean Air's unionized pilots and management reached agreement late Wednesday, quickly sapping the momentum of a broader strike led by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the umbrella labor union seems embarrassed. Nurses and administrative staff at six hospitals are still off the job, but unions at 12 other hospitals have already ended their strikes. The number of affected job sites has been reduced by half since the start of the general strike.

It is public antagonism that dampened the spirits of the general strike led by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. Workers at bankrupt companies opposed restructuring. Pilots with annual salaries of more than 100 million won ($78,000) demanded wage hikes, though the airline is suffering losses. In one hospital, more than thousand staff members held a strike-launch ceremony, singing and using loudspeakers, without regard to bedridden patients who need rest.

Who would be sympathetic with such strikers? The umbrella labor union even raised political issues, opposing the missile defense system promoted by the U.S. Bush Administration and urging the National Assembly to pass a reform bill. Who would consent to such antics?

Though the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions lacked justification for a general strike, the timing of the strike was very harmful to the economy and individual unions walked out illegally, we think much of the blame belongs with the government. For smooth corporate restructuring, the labor market should be more flexible and layoffs should be easier to make. But the government took a mild stance toward labor, unlike Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain. Because of its soft stance, the government failed to reform the labor sector and now sees labor repeating its unreasonable demands.

At this moment, we recommend that the government should reconsider its labor policies in general. Illegal strikes are being staged these days as if they are accepted practice because the government failed to take proper measures against them. We demanded repeatedly that the government should rigorously and sternly punish the prime movers of the illegal strikes by the Korean Air pilots' union and the hospital unions.

The most serious problem is that labor has nothing to lose after they make unreasonable demands or stage violent demonstrations, heads of Japanese companies operating in Korea said in a report to the government. The Japanese businessmen also noted that in Korea the management must pay wages even during a strike, and strikers are not punished for their illegal practices. The government should listen to those words.

Management should stick to its principles rigorously when facing collective negotiations with labor. In the case of Korean Air, though decisions on employment of foreign pilots and their wages are exclusive management rights, which the labor cannot interfere in, the airline accepted most of the demands by unionized pilots. That is wrong. The government may have urged Korean Air to accept the labor's demand, but the company should have rejected the request, saying that it violates its principles. In addition, if there are people who have suffered losses from illegal strikes, they should file suits for damages to correct the labor unions' practices. If the government fails to reform labor's practices, the public should do it.

Unionized workers should take off their red shirts and red bands, which are appalling to the public.
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