[EDITORIALS]Union faces a crucial decision

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[EDITORIALS]Union faces a crucial decision

Amid a general gloomy outlook for the year’s economy, we cannot help worrying about labor issues. The economy will only worsen with labor troubles.
Labor Minister Kim Dae-hwan, in a forum hosted by the JoongAng Ilbo, said the government will not welcome the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions back to the tripartite commission on the labor, management and the government if it should attach any conditions to its return.
The minister is suggesting that the confederation reach a social consensus on labor-management issues. Last year, the confederation halted the tripartite commission just as it was getting under way after a five-year hiatus.
The confederation has not responded to the minister’s proposal, but it’s highly unlikely that it would have, considering its hardline stance in the past. However, the confederation’s decision either way will influence how the year’s labor issues will unfold.
The confederation has announced that it will decide during its delegates meeting, on Jan. 21 to 22, whether it should return to the commission. Should the confederation choose confrontation, we can kiss an economic rebound goodbye.
Last year’s lessons can provide guidance for the confederation. Illegal strikes by government employees and LG-Caltex, both of which fall under the confederation, were a disaster. Hyundai Heavy Industries and LG-Caltex dropped out of the federation. These cases illustrate that society no longer tolerates illegal strikes by unionized workers of conglomerates.
The mentality of union members is also changing fast. Of the 1,193 members of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, another umbrella labor group, who were polled in December, 45.9 percent said they supported a peaceful labor movement. Only 10.9 percent said they support a militant labor struggle. Also, 61.8 percent said they thought stable employment was more important than a wage increase.
Transparency at Korean companies has been greatly improved, and new laws allowing class-action lawsuits and curbing the voting rights of conglomerates’ financial units went into effect this year. If the confederation is aware of these changes, it should return to the tripartite committee with no strings attached. We hope that the confederation and other committee members will strike a consensus that everybody is hoping for.
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