[EDITORIALS]Labor movement must changeOn Korea’s labor movement, Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan recently commented, “They take too extreme job actions.” At a special lecture on Wednesday, he said, “Compared with the situation in the 1970s and 1980s, the labor dispute nowadays is on the profit-sharing level.” He also said, “Labor’s action and demand should be at an appropriate level, otherwise it will not win people’s support.”
As the prime minister of the “participatory government” who is known as “labor’s friend,” his comment was unusual. It came after Lee Yong-deuk, the chairman of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, said, “To narrow the income gap among labor, it is desirable to freeze or control the rate of increase in the wages of high-income workers.” It is a change that gives us expectations that they, too, have started to realize the problem of labor relations.
It is obvious that labor’s behavior is excessive. Union members at big businesses, who draw an annual salary of 60 million won ($52,000), stage strikes demanding a wage increase.
In the case of KorAm Bank, although the bank that will take over KorAm promised that there will be no layoffs, the union, demanding that its members be allowed to stay in their present jobs, has been on strike for the last week. Many others threaten strikes while making such demands as participation in management decisions or even the cancellation of the troop deployment to Iraq.
Unionized workers, who account for only 11.6 percent of total workers, lead labor and even the Korean economy in general. Because of this, those who desperately need protection ― workers at small and medium-sized businesses, temporary workers whose annual salary is less than 12 million won and unemployed young workers ― suffer even more.
The labor movement should change. The unions of big businesses must look for a way to coexist. The government must restore law and order by taking firm action against labor’s illegal action according to the law. Unless Korea’s labor relations, labeled as militant, change, the future of the Korean economy will remain dark. A stable life and economic recovery are also related to stable labor-management relations. Now the change should come from the unions of big businesses.