[EDITORIALS]For a strike-free yearPresident Roh Moo-hyun requested the labor unions at large businesses to show restraint and make concessions. Mr. Roh said that stable labor-management relations are the key to the success of the national economy, and appealed to labor “to refrain from demanding wage increases in excess of the productivity improvement rate, at least for this year.” The most difficult task the Korean economy faces now is job creation, and stable labor-management relations are the starting point to a solution.
The task ahead is working out concrete policy according to the direction presented by the president and concentrating all fields of our social energy in this direction. Mr. Roh emphasized the importance of the economy last year, too. But his words were not implemented because they were hidden under other urgent political and social issues, before they were taken up as a policy. Sometimes there were confusion and inconsistency in the government policies. What is important is implementation of policy and concentration of people’s minds on the focus. This year, the government must lead the nation and concentrate national power on the economy. Depending on the priority of the policy, it will be decided whether it is suitable for economic recovery and job creation.
The problem of excessive wage increases and militant labor unions must be solved. The rate of wage increases has been higher than that of productivity improvements. The rate of real wage increases during the first quarter last year was 4.3 percentage points higher than that of productivity gains. The average wage of Korean workers in the munufacturing sector was at one point more than 10 times higher than industrial wages in China. Korean workers rally and stage illegal strikes repeatedly. Because of selfish unions and an inflexible labor market, businessmen close down factories and relocate overseas.
This has resulted in “growth without employment.” Last year, 40,000 jobs were decreased. If this trend goes on, the social phenomena of unemployed school graduates and jobless 30- and 40-year-olds will persist and increase.
We must break the vicious cycle. In Ireland, labor, management and the government worked out concessions that provided a platform for a leap forward when they confronted a crisis. We must learn from their wisdom.
The government must complete a road map for improvements in labor-management relations and implement it. It must stand firm against violence and illegality, according to legal principles. The umbrella labor organizations, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, and the unions at major businesses should not stick to their attitude of group egoism. Management, of course, must cooperate. It must satisfy international standards of management transparency.
The situation surrounding us is urgent. And there is a right time for every thing. If we waste another year after spending a year without accomplishing anything, we could be crossing over the bridge of no return. Although we try to fare well a few years later, we might have to lament over ourselves because it might be already too late by that time. While our neighboring countries struggle hard with their eyes wide, if we bite and fight against each other, there will be no chances for us to succeed.
We must not stop at words, but show our determination with action. Declaring that this is a year without labor disputes, we must join hands.