[EDITORIALS]Strikers Ignore the People's WelfareThe Korean Confederation of Trade Unions went out on a general strike Tuesday despite entreaties and opposition from people worried about the effects the walkouts would have on a nation already suffering from a long period of drought. Pilots at Korean Air and ground staff at Asiana Airlines went out on strike, the largest ever airline job action in Korea, causing a flight fiasco. Throughout Korea, 55,000 union members in 125 companies answered the strike call. Also, Tuesday, 12 hospitals that are members of a national association of health industry trade unions, including Seoul National University Hospital, went on strike.
We have pointed out many times that a strike at this time and for the stated reasons is wrong. As the ministers of the five ministries related with labor affairs have declared in a statement, it is now time "that all the people gather their strength for drought-relief and stable employment by reviving the economy." The economic downturn that began in the second half of last year has slowed, and the liquidation of large companies, such as Hyundai Construction that had burdened the economy, is in the final stage. We are now at a crossroad. At this juncture, a large-scale strike by unions will negatively affect the economy.
Further, because of the severe drought, public opinion is not favorable. That KCTU went ahead with the strike regardless of negative public sentiment and seemingly ignoring the fact that the life of labor unions depends on public support is baffling. The strikes at the airlines and hospitals are stirring fierce public anger since the transportation and health care industries are directly connected with people's daily lives. In the case of the airlines, rage among travelers is rising quickly, a reaction to the cancelation of flights. Although the trade union at Korean Air has stated it can not cave in on the ban on employing foreign pilots and the guarantee for safe operations, we do not believe they are issues worth the 20 billion won or so in sales loss incurred by the strike. Also, since air cargo accounts for more than 30 percent of trade volume, the flight suspensions could also accelerate export stagnation.
The strike at hospitals is also likely to stir public anger since people had already dealt with a medical crisis last year when doctors went on strike opposing medical reform. Many of the demands being made, such as a five-day work week, an end to layoffs tied to corporate reform and the legalization of collective bargaining by industry, are closely related to basic labor rights. Some are being deliberated by the labor-management-government commission, which makes it difficult for individual hospitals to accept. Of course, there may be managers who have no sympathy for collective bargaining and there may be unions that are concerned if they lose their fight with managers and the Korea Employers Federation there would be no place left for them. However, considering the sharp public criticism and the state of the economy, the unions should not strike for the sake of a victory.
We believe the government is largely responsible for the current situation. The government has pushed strongly for conglomerate and financial reforms, but has always hesitated when it came to labor reform. The government should take this opportunity to make clear its position on the demands by labor that run against market principles, and it should punish illegal strikes according to the law. Especially, we demand that the government resolutely confront the illegal strike by pilots at Korean Air, which does not follow the administrative guidelines of the National Labor Relations Commission.