[EDITORIALS]Labor dropped the ball

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[EDITORIALS]Labor dropped the ball

We must seriously question the future of this country when the nation's labor sector botches the passage of a special economic zone bill, as it did last weekend. Earlier in the same week, Korea proved to be a hermit on the diplomatic front, taking a hesitant stance in the creation of a free trade agreement between the Association of South East Asian Nations plus South Korea, Japan and China. The government seems to believe that Korea can survive on its own in an Asian region that is fast aligning economically.

Labor's gripe with the new bill on setting up special economic zones focuses on monthly and menstrual leaves, and the hiring of contract workers with limited terms. The labor sector is demanding that companies, mostly foreign firms, provide the same working conditions of giving paid monthly and menstrual leaves, and curtail the number of contract workers. In order to pass the bill, the government and the National Assembly yielded by stipulating that only information technology firms can hire limited-term contract workers, and that firms would have to grant unpaid monthly and menstrual leaves. Obviously, these alterations are not sufficient to satisfy the labor sector.

A special economic zone, with a view toward attracting foreign investment, must have different attractions. Regulations pertinent in the economic zones should meet international criteria. In that respect, we should not insist that the foreign companies change their ways to satisfy domestic working situations. Rather, we should open our minds and look to amend our working and holiday conditions to the standards of foreign companies. The bill already has endured doubts and scorn that the government retreated too generously to labor, triggering questions whether such Korean economic zones can attract foreign companies. Just as Korea will have no future if it is isolated from a free trade agreement to be launched between China and ASEAN, which represents a market of 1.8 billion, foreign investors will pass over Korea to invest in Shanghai and Pudong special economic zones unless Korea can provide better incentives.

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