[EDITORIALS]Labor issues are looming

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[EDITORIALS]Labor issues are looming

The two largest labor umbrella groups and labor unions of government corporations have announced a joint strike early next week. The government has vowed to deal firmly with the strikes, so a confrontation may be brewing - make that a train wreck for our fragile recovering economy and productivity.

Privatization of gas distribution and railroads and adoption of a five-day workweek are both on labor's agenda, suggesting that the showdown is more likely to be between labor and government rather than labor and private firm management.

Restructuring of our deficit-ridden, money-losing government-influenced firms lags far behind private sector reform. Public corporations should get down to the business of making profits and stop hiding behind the hard-line unions that most public corporations have.

And the merits and demerits of adopting a five-day workweek have been debated to death. It is time to compromise and settle the issue.

There are also other problems on the labor agenda this year. The first is this year's wage increases, and labor and management are far apart. The Korea Employers Federation suggests a hike of 4 percent but the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions want a 12 percent increase. Should signs of an economic recovery materialize, it will be difficult to close the gap between the two positions. There is also the issue of recognizing the airline industry as a core public sector, which would limit unionization and labor rights in the sector. These hurdles must be wisely and skillfully surmounted.

Labor should not stick to its strike plans; more talks with management and the government are needed. The government and political figures should use their influence to find compromises. Bills to restructure the nation's electrical power industry and privatize the gas and railroad industries have been sent to the National Assembly, but legislators would rather bicker with each other than consider them. Politicians who neglect their duty are a problem. It is time for bipartisan efforts and a demostration of their labor-related political skills.
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