[EDITORIALS]Wanting more and moreLG Caltex Oil Corp. recently made an unusual disclosure of its labor costs. Its annual average labor cost was 61.9 million won ($52,480); for a high school graduate assembly worker, it was 59.7 million won. Although these figures include incentives, tuition support for children and welfare benefits, they would astonish most workers at small and mid-size firms.
Samsung Electronics Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. pay assembly workers an average of 50 million won per year. Blue-collar workers at large companies no longer belong in the low-income category.
It is good to treat employees of highly profitable companies well. But it is perplexing that well-paid workers at large companies, including LG Caltex Oil, are demanding wage increases of more than 10 percent and participation in management. It is dumbfounding that their demands include, effectively, lifetime employment and the cost of private tutoring for their children.
Labor unions say they should be protected because they are disadvantaged, but unions at large companies are no longer the weak. Only 12 percent of workers are organized in Korea, most at large companies. They are better paid than workers at non-unionized firms. Yet they have often unduly gone on strike, holding the public’s lives and Korea’s economy hostage to increase their share.
Their share comes at the expense of workers at smaller companies, who endure miserable conditions and cannot even afford to feel relative deprivation. The damage will inevitably come back to workers at large companies like a boomerang, as increased labor costs lead to less investment in research and development and new facilities, and fewer new jobs. A company’s fate is obvious if its management stumbles over union meddling.
All this could result in fewer new jobs and an economic slump. Large companies’ unions should take the long-term view. Management should learn that rejecting excessive union demands is the only way to survive together. The government’s job is to punish illegal strikes sternly and stick to laws and principles.