[VIEWPOINT]Leaders’ panel, a social model

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[VIEWPOINT]Leaders’ panel, a social model

President Roh Moo-hyun recently proposed that a labor-management-government leaders committee be established. The president also proposed to establish a five-party council, including labor and management representatives from small and medium businesses, separate from the existing Tripartite Commission. The commission has been virtually at a standstill since the Korea Confederation of Trade Unions, one of the two major umbrella labor groups, withdrew in 1999. The possibility of a new council gives hope of a more efficient channel for talks between labor and management.
The president stressed coexistence based on dialogue and compromise, concessions and self-restraint and efforts by all parties to reduce tension. But there are many obstacles to overcome. Along with the arguments about the implementation of a five-day work week, problems related to part-time employers and labor unions’ participation in management, the labor unions’ recent demand that businesses contribute a certain percentage of their profits to society has become a hot topic.
The most urgent task the leaders’ committee will face is the normalization of the Tripartite Commission. Reorganization of the commission is inevitable if it is to draw the confederation back to the table. The biggest factor in establishing the leaders’ committee had been a consensus among all parties that the confederation must return to formal negotiations.
But there are voices of concern that a five-party committee would be even harder to work in than the three-party commission. Also, the president’s proposal that smaller firms be included might be seen as an expression of determination to redistribute wealth. If so, we must seriously discuss whether we want a council that would concern only the interests of labor unions, management and the government, or a more comprehensive body that would include farmers’ and civic groups.
Another task that the leaders’ committee faces is the commission’s operations. The commission is mistrusted by both labor unions and management. We must not forget that it is not the structure of the commission that is important but the “software” of the commission to operate efficiently. In order for the channels of conversation paved by the president to bear fruit, all parties need to look back on their past mistakes and change their ways.
First, the government must stop thinking that the commission is a nuisance. Government agencies in the past, the economic agency in particular, have regarded the commission with a certain disdain. Only when the government becomes more earnest in persuading labor unions and management to follow its policies will the commission function properly.
Second, management should not try to use the commission only for its own benefits. Management should stop dealing first with issues that are beneficial to it and stalling on the demands of labor unions.
Third, labor unions should use the commission for discussions, but should be prudent in decisions to withdraw. As a divorce puts an end to a family, withdrawal from the commission could mean an end to a relationship, with heavy consequences.
The new labor-management-government commission could be a model for conflict resolution in our tension-filled society. A social consensus model that can resolve labor-management tensions through conversation and compromise would also send a signal to ministries dealing with other social conflicts.
May the leaders’ committee become the successful first case of a social conflict resolution body.

* The writer is a senior research fellow at the Korea Labor Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Sun Han-seung
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