[VIEWPOINT]Labor relations must be updated

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[VIEWPOINT]Labor relations must be updated

Both employers and employees are dissatisfied with Korea's current labor-management relations. Employers complain that they have unnecessary problems in corporate restructuring due to the difficulty of cutting jobs. Employees complain that increased job losses and the rise in temporary jobs has damaged laborers' welfare. Since both employers and employees are dissatisfied, the current labor-management relations should be reformed and changed.

First, we should make the wage-setting system more scientific.

Collective bargaining between labor and management is the dominant wage-setting system in Korea. We should deliberate whether that wage-setting system, which was adopted from Europe and America, will be suitable for Korea in the future. According to empirical studies in many companies and industry sector, the growth rate of wages is equal to the labor productivity growth rate in the medium and long term. That is also an efficient and fair way to set wages according to economic theory.

So why should labor and management brawl every year, causing problems that spill over into the larger society? Would it not be more proper to set up a mediating organization, a wage-setting committee composed of neutral experts, to convince labor and management both to accept wage increases based on increased productivity?

Second, we need a more rational system for labor mobility.

Currently, job changes are decided only by labor and management, especially by the power struggle between them. Employers insist on the freedom to cut jobs, and employees insist that no jobs should be lost. But the problems of job adjustments cannot be solved only by labor and management. When a worker loses his job, the responsibility for the worker is transferred from the employer to the government. It is the government's job to secure for unemployed people a minimum level of security and to provide education programs to help the unemployed find new jobs.

In the 21st century, the knowledge and information era, the loss of a job should be a chance for a person to improve his education and job skills. Accordingly, labor, management and the government should establish a rational system that links the loss of a job to educational opportunities leading to a new job.

Third, if the problems of wage-setting and job adjustment are solved in those ways, only one problem - cooperation between labor and management - will remain.

The most important thing in inducing cooperation between labor and management in this era of information and globalization is to make the workplace into a learning organization. In the future, the development of a company, which is further the national competitiveness, and the welfare of workers, which depends on their job skills and the wages they can command, will both be linked directly to the educational level of the national work force.

So an essential part of a strategy for changing companies into efficient educational institutions and learning organizations is to continuously improve workers' skills, knowledge and information levels. It should also be the ultimate aim of the labor movement. Then the country can develop, and the welfare of workers can improve.

Fourth, the labor movement should enter the Internet age.

In Korea, the number of Internet users already exceeds 25 million. Information ad communication technologies should be adopted by labor unions. Labor activists should organize and expand their activities in accordance with the diversification of jobs and make their organizations democratic to improve labor unions' internal communications through the Internet.

Using the net, labor activists can also reinforce their efforts to improve each unionized worker's welfare, and should expand connections with the global labor movement and improve their skills through links with experts and civic groups.

For the 21st century, we should not continue to have labor-management relations that do not satisfy either employers or employees. We should put together our ideas and change our thoughts and philosophy.


The writer is a professor of law at Seoul National University.

by Park Se-il

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