[VIEWPOINT]Labor union drama a power playCitizens are getting nervous watching the walkout by the power utility labor unions. It seems that the government and the unions have now entered a strength contest, laying aside the privatization issue, the original cause of the strike. Fortunately, there have been no problems in the power supply - so far. If a problem occurs in the supply of electricity that would affect people's daily lives and economic activities, the damage will fall on citizens. Any loss could be too big a burden to overlook as a procedure toward reform.
The privatization of the power industry does not aim at disposing of some troubled firms. It aims at introducing competition in the electricity market to improve efficiency and to stimulate investment so that the power supply can be stabilized. Accordingly, the power companies will never be sold dirt cheap, unlike the worries of some unionized workers. To prepare for privatization, the government has operated a test system of competition between power firms. And Seoul will carry out privatization step by step, considering the economic conditions. The government will also be cautious in allocating the power plants under construction to electricity companies so that they may complete the construction without problems, stabilizing the power supply. The government has designed various measures to minimize possible negative effects and unrest in the initial stage of privatization.
The government is required to carry out privatization and restructuring according to the laws that have obtained the public's approval, overcoming the pressure from some groups. A constitutional state should not allow certain groups to violate laws according to their own interests and ideas and to bring about extreme confrontation, using strength. Since the National Labor Relations Commission has begun an official arbitration, the concerned unions are barred from taking collective actions. The power utility labor unions, however, are enforcing an illegal walkout. In addition, the strikes by unions of public utility sectors such as the power generation are rigorously restricted. Even so, the power labor unions are continuing to hold the nation's energy supply hostage. The unions are also inciting other trade unions, which are not directly related to the power industry, to strike so that the national economy may be in danger of collapsing.
Regardless of the unions' justification, if they continue violating laws to obtain what they want, the public will surely turn its back on them. If the view that the current strike is an illegal activity with the convenience of the citizens as hostage spreads among citizens, the unionized workers will not only fail to justify their activity but will also lose the interests they pursue. In countries where the culture of labor-management relations have been refined, such as the United States, Britain and Japan, there are no walkouts that disregard rules and proper procedures.
The power labor unions justify their walkout by saying, "Privatization can do harm to the public welfare." But public welfare can be protected in competition of privatized companies. It is ironic that the strike for public welfare is threatening the convenience of the citizens.
Is there then no way to solve the current situation? It is true that it has become difficult to solve the walkout through conversation. But we still expect a dramatic reconciliation between the government and the power labor unions. The government has been trying to put citizens at ease, saying that there is no problem in supplying power with a reduced number of workers during the walkout, and that the strike will be a chance for personnel restructuring. But the government should know such words will not help to resolve the current situation. The labor unions also should change their view that this situation can only be solved by exercising strength.
Korea Electric Power Corp.'s explanation that the work force in power plants can be reduced by 20 percent to 30 percent, seeing that less than half the number of that work force manages the plants now, is gaining momentum. The labor unions should recognize this fact and do something about it. They should know that an illegal strike that causes inconvenience to citizens cannot be successful, and thus the unions should search for reconciliation.
The writer is the president of the Korea Energy Economics Institute.
by Lee Sang-gon